Taking Liberties With… Mitch Callahan
Forward, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Last Amateur Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Youth Programs: Norwalk Knights, Paramount Panthers, LA Hockey Club, Los Angeles Jr. Kings
Not only has Mitch Callahan, a 6-foot, 195-pound forward, improved his point total during each of his seasons in junior and the pros, but he’s won two major championships.
In 2009, he was part of the Kelowna Rockets, who won the Western Hockey League’s Ed Chynoweth Cup and reached the Memorial Cup final. In 2013, he won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins. In between, he took home a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2011 World Junior Championship.
A sixth-round selection (180th overall) by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he played his first NHL game on March 25, 2014 against Columbus Blue Jackets.
The fourth-year pro’s path to get there, however, included just season of playing AAA hockey in California and then making Kelowna through a tryout camp.
California Rubber: What is the best piece of advice you have for young hockey players and their parents?
Mitch Callahan: Just have fun. It’s a long, long season, so if you’re not having fun, you’ll beat yourself up. Just enjoy the sport. People who play (professionally) have fun with it through the ups and downs.
CR: What’s your favorite memory growing up playing hockey in California? Overall?
MC: In Pee Wees, I scored a goal with one second left at the regional finals. I think playing my first game in the NHL might have to be it. Individually, that was pretty awesome. It might be my favorite memory so far. Winning the Calder Cup was awesome, but getting to play one game in the NHL, that was pretty special.
CR: Who’s had the biggest influence on your hockey career?
MC: My dad (Mike). Even though he was always my coach, whenever we were away from hockey we’d never talk about hockey unless I brought it up. He wouldn’t talk about it so I could be a normal kid. When I asked, he wouldn’t sugarcoat anything, he’d tell me everything I need to work on to get better. Growing up I was a really small kid, and he’d tell me the cream rises to the top, and I’ll eventually hit my growth spurt. He always had a positive mindset even with me being a small player and always playing at the AA level. I played just one year of AAA, and that was my last year of Midgets at 16U.
CR: Is there another sport you enjoy playing in your free time?
MC: I like playing golf. A lot of hockey players enjoy that. I play mostly with my dad. It’s pretty cool we have a bond over that as well.
CR: If you weren’t playing pro hockey, what would you be doing for a living?
MC: I was a really big skateboarder growing up, so hopefully have a career in that. Growing up, before I took hockey seriously, I liked skateboarding a little more.
CR: What’s your game-day routine look like?
MC: Wake up, have some breakfast and go over to the rink for the morning skate. Then we have some meetings with the coach and get the game plan. Leave about 11:30 and go get some lunch, some pasta. Then go back to my apartment. I’m not a big napper. I’ll nap maybe a half hour, if that. I’ll watch TV or Netflix until about 4 o’clock, then put the suit on and head over to the rink. Right now, I’m really into “Friday Night Lights.”
CR: Are you particular about any of your gear?
MC: I don’t like wearing new gear at all. I try to wear the same gear as long as I can. I’ve been wearing the same elbow pads for the past five years.
CR: Any superstitions or routines?
MC: Whenever I get dressed, I put my left side on before my right. I have two backup sticks plus my game stick, and before every game I have to put brand-new tape on all of them just in case one of them breaks or is not good.
CR: What are the essentials for you on a long road trip?
MC: A deck of cards and my iPad. We have some card players on the team (they play Euchre or Seven-Up Seven-Down). If we’re not playing cards, I’m streaming movies. If I didn’t have those, the bus rides would be a lot worse.
CR: Do you have a favorite restaurant to visit when you’re home in California during the summer?
MC: There is a place in my hometown I have to get Mexican food from every time I go home. It’s called Molca Salsa.
CR: Did you have a favorite hockey player growing up?
MC: With my dad being from Toronto, we always watched the (Maple) Leafs play so my favorite player was Darcy Tucker. I tried to model my game after him, which was kind of tough to do in youth hockey, but I loved the way he played. Loved his willpower.
CR: What’s the most challenging aspect of playing pro hockey?
MC: You have to grow up on your own right away. I was 20 years old, living on my own. I had to learn how to be a good pro, take care of your body each day. If you don’t do that, it’s not going to be a long, good (career); it’s going to be a painful one.
CR: What is the funniest hockey prank you’ve witnessed or been a part of?
MC: Putting the cup of water under a guy’s helmet so when he pulls the helmet off the shelf he gets soaked. We had some guys who had their pant legs sewn together. Others had their pockets cut out. Those are pretty funny, but I wouldn’t recommend them.
– Chris Bayee