Beyond The Benches

Mitch Wahl Brings Scoring Touch To Florida Everblades

The Florida Everblades, ECHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, recently got back one of their top scoring forwards in 24-year-old Mitch Wahl. Wahl is in his first season with the team but has missed a few weeks of action due to a lower-body injury and he is looking to continue his scoring average of .83 points per game. Wahl, unlike most of this teammates, had an unconventional introduction to hockey beginning his career in sunny, Seal Beach, California.

“It was pretty rare when I was a young kid. It’s kind of more popular now, there’s quite a few players coming out of Southern California, it’s pretty cool to see,” he said.

The sport is getting more popular in Southern California with the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks all being perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

“It’s not a hockey hotbed by any means, but I had some good coaching down there when I was a young kid.  I started playing hockey when I was about six years old and I really enjoyed myself,” Wahl said. “I ended up getting hooked up with a good team throughout my minor hockey career and that got me to the Western League [WHL- Spokane Chiefs].”

Wahl continued to impress in juniors during his third season with Spokane scoring 73 points (20 G, 53 A) and helped his team win the coveted Memorial Cup. The experience has been one of the most memorable achievement of his young career.

“Winning the Memorial Cup; it’s such a hard trophy to win. There’s about 60 teams competing for it,” he said.  “You have to win your league just to get to the tournament, so it’s quite the accomplishment just to be there. It’s such a prestigious trophy.”

Wahl’s success with his junior team did not go unnoticed and following the 2007-08 season, he was drafted by the Calgary Flames.

“I didn’t really know exactly which team I would be drafted to.  It was an exciting time for me and my family. My draft season went well. My team in Spokane won the Memorial Cup that year, so it really couldn’t have gone any better,” Wahl said. “I was fortunate for that to happen in my draft season.”

Like many, young prospects Wahl experience at the NHL Entry Draft was an unforgettable one being drafted in the second round by a team whose location could not be more different than Seal Beach, California.

“Calgary drafted me and it’s a Canadian hotbed for hockey.  I spent a lot of time there in my five years [with the Calgary Flames/Abbotsford Heat organizations], so it was cool getting drafted by a Canadian Team,” he said.

Wahl is looking to continue bringing his offensive successes to his new club. Last season he scored 53 points with the Idaho Steelheads, but was lured to the familiar, sunny environment of Florida the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign.

“I came here and I wanted a change of scenery. I talked to the coach, Greg Poss, early in the summer and we spoke a lot,” Wahl said. “I was the first player signed in the summer so I was locked in early. I was really happy to come to a nice place and play hockey in Florida where the weather is great.”

The Everblades are off to a fantastic start and Wahl’s return from injury may give them an extra push on their Thanksgiving road trip.

“They brought me in to be a top player on this team.  The last week and a half, things have gone pretty well for myself and the team,” he said. “Things are looking up. They are relying on me to bring offense to the table and produce for the team, and I think I’ve done a decent job of that so far and hopefully I can keep that going.”

The Everblades will be tested after Thanksgiving when they begin a four-game road trip.  Besides adjusting to a playing with a new team, Wahl will have to adjust to the heavy-bus travel of the east coast after spending last season with the Idaho Steelheads.

“I’ve been playing out west [with the Utah Grizzlies and Idaho Steelheads] the last few years, so I haven’t really had a whole lot of travel on the bus. It’s a lot different out here with the bus rides and travel is a little bit further.” Wahl said.

Travel in the ECHL can be demanding in that, unlike the NHL and AHL, many teams employ buses as a main method of transportation between games.

“This two week trip is gonna be pretty brutal, we only play four games over the two weeks. We’re going into Wheeling, West Virginia then to Michigan then Indiana,” he said. “It’ll be a long two weeks and a lof of time on the bus, but at the same time it’s something new for me so it’s all fun.  We have a good time.”

In addition to his individual scoring ability, Wahl wants to make sure the Everblades continue leading their division.

“It’s been good so far. I was very happy that I made the decision to come out east and play for Florida.” he said. “It looks like we have a really good squad from our record so far.  I’m happy to be here with things going well.”

 

 

James Stolfi is a journalist from the New York metro area covering the NHL Metropolitan Division. He can be contacted on Twitter @JamesStolfi