Garrett Mitchell, a Hershey Bears’ fan favorite during his seven seasons in Chocolatetown (2011-18), came back to this area this past season playing for the Reading Royals in the ECHL, after spending the 2018-19 campaign in Slovakia.
Playing for an AHL team for that many consecutive years is quite rare these days, but it meant he has some interesting stats in Hershey’s 82 campaigns. His 400 games played are 26th and his 630 penalty minutes are 13th in franchise history, and both would have increased if it had not been for some lengthy injuries that kept him sidelined.
While with Hershey, Mitchell was a three-time captain (2015-18), guided the Bears to the Calder Cup Playoffs five times, led the team to the 2016 Calder Cup championship, and played in 52 postseason games and in two AHL Outdoor Classics.
“I was pretty fortunate towards the end of last season when Rockford offered to sign me to what included this current season, so I was very excited to be back in the AHL because there definitely was a time that it was going to be a very steep jump for me,” Mitchell said. “After going to Europe, it’s tough to come back at the AHL level. I signed, I think on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and that Friday was when the season was cancelled so timing is everything. Right now I’m hoping I can start the season in Rockford, but it’s definitely all up in the air.”
“I’ve been skating with the Palmyra Black Knights the last couple of months and since they are 17 or 18 it has been keeping me on my toes,” Mitchell continued, with a laugh. “I could skate by myself, but to have other guys out there makes it a lot better going through drills and unpredictable situations that happen in the game.”
For Mitchell, last season started with 40 ECHL games in Reading, two AHL games with the Laval Rockets, and it finished with the Rockford IceHogs for just 15 tilts, when the league cancelled the rest of the season in mid-March.
“The move to Rockford was different because no one had heard of me except the general manager and John Quenneville and Joe Cramarossa who I had played against,” Mitchell said. “It was a fresh start for me there because it gave me an opportunity at that level for the rest of the season, despite not knowing anyone, but then the season only lasted a short time.”
“Being a veteran on the IceHogs was a double edged sword,” added Mitchell. “When I went there after being in Reading and driving back and forth every day I felt I could still play at a higher level, but I came to the realization that my daughters were getting older and I knew my playing days were limited.”
During his lengthy seven year stay with the Bears, Mitchell served as team captain three seasons, played 400 of his 417 AHL games for the Bears scoring 53 goals with 57 assists and sat in the sin bin the equivalent of 10.5 games. His post season record included 52 games and raising the 2016 Calder Cup.
Now 29, Mitchell is at the point where he felt he needs to look ahead to the approaching playing career ending and what he might be interested in doing either in or out of the game of hockey.
“I thought my season in Reading would be my last kick of the can so I started looking at what would be the next step for me,” said Mitchell. “I don’t know if that would be in coaching or some other way to stay in the game, but at the same time I’ve been talking to different people in the game and trying to decide if I want to be back on the bus and have the uncertainty of what happens each year.”
The Mitchell family has called the Hershey-Hummelstown area home for several years, despite his spending the 2018-19 campaign in Slovakia.
“Most of the last 11 years we’ve been in the Hershey area where we have made a lot of friends,” said Mitchell. “I’ve talked about making the next step to some former players who are living here, but right now I don’t have a definite plan.
“If there was an opportunity to get an assistant coaching job I definitely would not close the door on that at this time,” Mitchell added. “We love this area and right now are working on our Green Cards and that is one of the reasons I decided to go to Reading because they could help us. The pandemic slowed things down as far as getting an interview, but that should be taken care of soon.”
In closing Mitchell admitted, “The big difference between being a player and coach is as a player you come in at 8:45 in the morning and leave at 12:15. As a coach you spend a lot of time watching game films and that becomes a whole-day schedule.”