Mitchell Stephens finding his groove in pro hockey

Author: Mike Davies, Peterborough Examiner
Date: Feb 15, 2018

Mitchell Stephens is making a mark in his first year of professional hockey.

The Peterborough native was the American Hockey League's rookie-of-the-month for January with 14 points in 12 games on eight goals and six assists. The Syracuse Crunch forward, and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, also notched two goals and three assists for five points in leading the Northern Division to the win at the AHL All-Star Classic in Utica, N.Y. earlier this month. Stephens, 21, has 17 goals and 12 assists for 29 points in 48 games with a +12 rating for the Crunch.

He learned a week before the all-star game he'd be replacing teammate Matt Peca who had been called up to the Lightning.

“It was a big honour,” said Stephens. “It was really cool to be a part of something like that. I'd never been a part of anything of that magnitude before. There were a lot of high-end players and some pretty good skill there.”

Stephens said he's feeling more comfortable in the pro ranks after getting the first few months under his belt.

“Early in the year there were ups and downs but I wanted to stick with what's been successful. With the amount of injuries and guys getting called up there was opportunity for guys to have better minutes or be on the top line. It was an opportunity for me I tried to run with.

“It was a matter of getting used to the league and getting used to our systems and how we play in Syracuse.”

The adjustments to the pro lifestyle were as much off the ice as on as he's no longer living under a billet's roof like in junior.

“Living on your own or with a roommate you have to cook and buy groceries and clean everything yourself. It's definitely something you have to adjust to; being an adult now and a professional and eating the right way and getting your sleep. You can't rely on billets to get you places or make your food.”

The minor pro life is notorious for its long bus rides but Stephens said it's not too bad in Syracuse.

“We have four teams within two hours of us so it's easy travel. Going the night before helps,” he said.

The Crunch, who feature ex-Petes Dominik Masin, Matt Spencer and Jonne Tammela, sit in fourth place in the Northern Division but only two points out of second place with 10 more wins than losses.

“Team success correlates to individual success,” he said. “The last couple of months of the season these games become more important than at the start of the year so it's a matter of sticking to the successful aspects of your game and what is making the team successful.”

Stephens's ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL and the Lightning are a deep organization that wants its prospects to develop in the minors before they get their shot. It requires a mindset that focuses on the present and being the best you can be each day in order to develop.

“You want to have that drive to play in the NHL like everyone does but have the willingness to work for it,” said Stephens.

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