There’s still much to do, but the new Stockton Heat head coach wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s still pretty fresh,” said Mitch Love, who is set to head south to Stockton from Saskatoon, where he’s spent the past three seasons behind the Blades’ bench in the Western Hockey League. “Lots of moving parts to work through, but that’s the hockey world. You’ve got to be quick, stay on your toes.”
For the past decade, Love has coached in the WHL – spending seven seasons with the Everett Silvertips as an assistant coach and then in Saskatoon, where he led the Blades to a record of 95-44-12-4. He’s also had some seasoning on the international stage, having a hand in guiding teams representing Canada in five of the last six seasons.
“I’m lucky to have coached for two first-class organizations in Everett and Saskatoon and for Hockey Canada,” he said. “Giving me an opportunity to get behind the bench after my playing career, I was very fortunate with that. Now I’m going to be no different than the players chasing their dreams to be in the NHL within the Flames organization. It’s a process. It takes a lot of work, and I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
He appreciates the leap that lies ahead. It will be uncharted territory for him, moving from players looking to be drafted to ones competing for NHL roster spots. To get the job done, he’ll lean on what he always has, forming strong bonds with players who look for his guidance. At just 37 years old, he’s relatable, approachable and feels he has a knack for getting messages through. Relationships, he says, are the bedrock when working with athletes looking to reach their potential.
He’s been in their shoes before, after all. As a player, Love spent five seasons in the AHL. He knows what it’s like at this level, being one step away from achieving the ultimate goal. Now, he has the chance to set a culture that can best help players prepare for life at the game’s highest stage.
“Just like the players, I’m looking to learn and continue to grow as a coach,” he said. “First and foremost, my job is to make sure they’re developing, that we’re a competitive team on the ice, that we’re finding wins for our fans. It’s always a more enjoyable to come to the rink when you’re winning, but again, our top priority is to get players ready to make that jump to the Calgary Flames.”
Over the next two weeks, Love and the Stockton staff will meet with Flames coaches, fine-tune systems and strategies to make sure players don’t skip a beat when they get called up. After that, he’ll look to get his feet on the ground in his new home in Northern California.
The previous two head coaches in Stockton, Ryan Huska and Cail MacLean, are now on the Flames staff as assistant coaches. It’s the opportunity to continue the progression, for himself and for the players who will follow his guidance, that Love said stood out when the opportunity with Stockton and Calgary presented itself.
“Progression, that’s the key word that comes to mind,” he said. “That’s going to be very important, for the players and for myself, continuing to get better every day. It’s something that stuck with me from my conversations with both Brad Treliving and Brad Pascall.
“First and foremost, we want to make sure the development of the players is that they’re ready when they make that jump to the National Hockey League. Hopefully one day I can follow suit.”