Devastated by injuries and call-ups last season, the Marlies failed to make the playoffs for only the second time since the AHL club returned to Toronto. 425 man games lost. That equates to a 5.3 players sitting out each and every game of a 80 game season – so let’s say, five and a backup goaltender.
Already this season the Marlies have seen talented forwards Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi get the call up to the show, as well as physical defenceman Korbinian Holzer. Ryan Hamilton joins Simon Gysbers and Danny Richmond in the press box, all suffering from separate ailments. All this is on top of Jay Rosehill, Alex Foster and James Reimer who had already spent time on the day-to-day list.
“Unfortunately Ryan [Hamilton] went down with an injury a few games ago and we’re playing with a couple of the guys out of the lineup who played key roles,” said Dale Mitchell, the Etobicoke native who was drafted by the Leafs in the third round of the 2007 draft.
Hamilton’s injury however has meant Mitchell has drawn into the lineup in a full time role on a line with Captain Alex Foster and Brayden Irwin.
“My job right now is to be a pest and an energy guy out there – to draw penalties, to get under the other team’s skin with driving the net, little things like that, little chirps here and there,” expressed the winger in a telephone conversation before the Marlies game in Glens Falls versus the Phantoms.
Mitchell always had a knack for chirping, his 354 penalties minutes over four and a half years in the OHL can attest to that, but the Marlies energetic agitator has a lot more to offer than just a skilled tongue. Mitchell three times crested the 30 goal plateau in junior, and produced at a rate greater than a point per game in all but his rookie OHL season.
“I was counted on offensively in junior and here we have our offensive guys, but that doesn’t stop me from putting the puck in the net or creating points or offensive chances, it’s just now i’m not as relied on as i was in junior,” expressed Mitchell, who currently has three assists over his six games with the Marlies.
Not many players are gifted with the on-ice gab as well as the scoring touch. Sean Avery, made famous by his antics, has never bettered 39 points in a NHL season.
“In practice i have to do the extra things to maintain those abilities and at the same time also working hard every shift to maybe get that opportunity on the powerplay or the top line,” Mitchell offered when speaking about his unique skill-set, but then added, “one day.”
Mitchell’s ‘one day’ may very well be ‘some day soon.’
With the casualties suffered last season, Marlies fans saw the emergence of Justin Hodgman, an undrafted centre who was deep down in . With a little attention, some conditioning and the proper guidance, Hodgman has blossomed into the team’s top centre on a line with Kadri and D’Amigo, and ranked second on the team in points.
With every challenge comes opportunity. The cliche may be overused, but it doesn’t make it any less true. With three called up and three more injured, the Marlies are indeed faced with a challenge. But with this challenge has come the opportunity for Dale Mitchell.
It’s left up to Dale to decide what he’s going to do with it.