EVERETT – Mitch Love did something unexpected when the Everett Silvertips’ season came to an end last Tuesday.
Everett had just been swept out of the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs by a 4-3 overtime loss to Kootenay. Love, listing drastically to one side because of a bum knee that forced him to watch the final five games of his junior hockey career from the stands, limped into the locker room at the Everett Events Center, slumped down in front of his locker, and began crying.
Mitch Love? Crying? The toughest player on the team? The player who once participated in 42 fights in a single season? The player whose appearance and persona more closely resemble that of a biker than a sensitive new-age guy?
Yes, that Mitch Love. The player who cares so much about being an Everett Silvertip that it brought him to tears.
Love’s Silvertip career may have come to an end, but he will always be known as the player who defined what being an Everett Silvertip was all about.
“When you look at what happened on the ice from a player’s contribution to giving our team some identity as a hard-working, passionate, physical team that was going to battle every night, every period, every shift, Mitch was the perfect guy,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “He more than anyone else has represented that the last two years.”
When the defenseman from Quesnel, British Columbia, first arrived in Everett in the summer of 2003, he was strictly a fighter who, after being traded to an expansion team, was pondering his hockey future.
Two years, two championship banners and a captaincy later, Love departs a complete player and the most beloved Silvertip in franchise history.
“This has blown everything I could have imagined out of the water,” Love said about his two seasons in Everett. “The success we had, the professionalism of everybody around, the support from the fans, it was just something amazing and something I’ll remember for a long, long time.”
Love has, on countless occasions, been described as the heart and soul of the team. That’s true, but he’s been so much more than that. Moreso than any other player, Love has created the team’s identity. His every action both on and off the ice – from working hard to transform his game, to putting the team ahead of the individual, to the endless public appearances on behalf of the team – made him the living persona of the Everett Silvertips franchise.
“As soon as I got here I couldn’t believe he hadn’t been running for mayor yet,” said Alex Leavitt, who arrived in Everett by trade in November. “His popularity in the town of Everett matches, some would say, Mark Messier’s popularity in the city of New York. It was pretty unbelievable when I first got here how respected he was by everybody in the community, and rightly so.”
Love’s ascendancy to the status of Everett legend began in the Silvertip locker room, where he earned the respect of his teammates for working hard to improve his game. He turned himself into an offensive factor, scoring 56 points (21 goals, 35 assists) during his two seasons in Everett, while cutting his penalty minutes in half, from 327 the year before he arrived in Everett to 163 in 2003-04 and 142 this season.
“He’s just one of those guys who you respect,” center Torrie Wheat said. “When you have somebody like that around who’s always trying to be better and is always wanting to give everything he’s got, it makes you want to do it, too.
“I played with him for four years and he’s like a big brother to me, and I know he’s like that for a lot of the young guys, too.”
It continued on the ice, where Love became the emotional leader who could charge up the home fans, either with a crunching hit or by waving the crowd to its feet after winning a fight.
“He’s a phenomenal leader,” goaltender Michael Wall said. “Both on ice and off ice he gets the boys ready to go. He brings such passion and emotion to the game you can’t help but get fired up.”
But what set Love apart was the way he carried it out into the community. Love became the public face of the franchise with his numerous appearances at schools, hospitals and other events. He never said “no” when asked to make an appearance.
“There’s the fierce competitor on the ice, but then there’s the fun-loving, easy-going kind of Mitch,” Everett general manager Doug Soetaert said. “The kid-loving, hospital-attending Mitch who gives back to the community. He helped put the Everett Silvertips on the map.”
“For a town that wasn’t really accustomed to the game of hockey, I thought it was really important for myself to get the team’s name into the community, doing school visits, hospital visits, parades, whatever the case may be,” said Love.
Love is moving on now. He plans on playing professionally next season and hopes to take his hockey career as far as he can. Then perhaps one day he’ll find his way back to the WHL as a coach.
But wherever his path takes him, Love will always be a Silvertip.
“I sit next to the guy in the locker room and it was an honor every game playing beside him,” left wing Tyler Dietrich said.
Well said, Tyler, well said.