PHILADELPHIA — Ian Mitchell remembers Jim Montgomery’s pitch vividly.
Mitchell was coming off three seasons with the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and was weighing his options on his next stop.
A smooth skating defenseman with good size, Mitchell took a visit to the University of Denver, which was fresh off winning the Frozen Four with Montgomery behind the bench.
Mitchell said his chat with Montgomery really hit home.
“He said, ‘It’s going to be the best time of your life and we’re here to win national championships at Denver and just that it’s a family here too,’ and that really resonated with me,” Mitchell said. “So right then I remember telling my dad at the airport when we were leaving after the visit that this is where I wanted to go without a doubt. And [my dad] was so impressed, too, with the program, with the coaches there and ultimately Monty was one of the biggest reasons why I did go to Denver, so I can’t say enough great things about him.”
Fast forward to June 2023 and Mitchell and Montgomery have reunited after the Bruins acquired the 6-foot, 192-pounder from the Blackhawks as part of the Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno trade.
Mitchell said the first call between the two was reminiscent of that first meeting.
“He just expressed his belief in me and that he was a big reason why [they] tried to get me,” he said. “So, I just couldn’t have been more thrilled for this new opportunity.”
Mitchell hasn’t sensed much of a change in Montgomery’s coaching style since their days in Denver.
“So far it seems like kind of the same, Monty’s cracking jokes and keeping things loose around the room, but when you hit the ice it’s all business and he has a high expectation for what’s going to happen on the ice, so it’s been great to get back with him,” he said.
Mitchell acknowledged that his time in Chicago didn’t always go as planned (he played in 82 games across parts of three seasons with 4 goals and 16 points) and he was happy to get a fresh start.
“I honestly couldn’t have been more thrilled, so some guys maybe aren’t too happy to be traded, but to come be with Monty again and with the team that was so successful last year to try to learn from the established D corps here was something I’m really excited about,” he said.
Having Montgomery in his corner has helped Mitchell acclimate to Boston quickly.
“Yeah, it’s huge, honestly, just knowing that there’s someone behind the bench that knows my game and is comfortable with me,” said Mitchell. “So, it definitely gives me some confidence every time I hop onto the ice.”
With training camp nearly two weeks old, Mitchell’s comfort level has consistently improved, and he has been making a strong push for a roster spot on a crowded blue line. He skated with several different partners in Monday’s 3-1 preseason loss to the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
“He was one of the few players I thought in our lineup that I noticed skating tonight,” said Montgomery.
Mitchell, who played 21:44 (second only to Hampus Lindholm’s 22:53), played in all situations and has shown a willingness to jump into the offense when the opportunity presents itself, a quality that has impressed Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco.
“He’s a guy that is good with the puck. He’s good at the offensive blue line. He’s a smart player,” said Sacco, who coordinates the defensive corps. “He makes good plays. He makes good reads out there. So, he’s a good puck moving defenseman that brings some skill.”
Three losses in a row
It was the third straight loss for the Bruins, who play again Tuesday night when they host the Capitals. They will close out the tune-up schedule against the Rangers Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Morgan Geekie put the Bruins on top, 1-0, when he snapped a one-timer off a pretty blind backhand pass from Charlie Coyle on the power play in the first.
Philadelphia scored the next three (Cam Atkinson, Travis Konecny, and Joel Farabee) as the Bruins struggled to put pucks on net, landing just 14 on a night when the staff mixed and matched a lot of the lines.
“I think it was more just us not being on our toes,” said Montgomery. “We weren’t playing north, weren’t playing direct enough, moving the puck quickly to our support. By the time we did, support was covered and I also thought we turned a lot of pucks over unnecessarily, which didn’t allow us to get to our puck possession game and get the puck below their goal line. They did a lot of the things to us that we wanted to do to them tonight.”
Jeremy Swayman went the distance for the Bruins in his first preseason action, stopping 21 shots.
The Boston goalie was quick to offer his condolences on the death of Red Sox legend Tim Wakefield.
“Just one conversation with him I’ll never forget about, he was talking about teammates and how it’s brothers for life and it was one of those conversations that you never forget from such a role model like that and hearing the interviews, the countless incredible praise that he got,” Swayman said. “It’s an extreme loss to not only the Boston community, the sports community, but to the world in general. So, I just feel fortunate to have that opportunity to meet him and we’re going to miss him.”
It was a Maine event as both Montgomery and Flyers coach John Tortorella skated for the Black Bears ... Coyle, Brandon Carlo, and Lindholm were the Bruins alternate captains ... Scouts from the Ducks, Blackhawks, Canadiens, Wild, Maple Leafs, Flames, Golden Knights, and Islanders were in attendance as teams get a final look at players who might not stick with their current organization ... The Bruins sent rookie forward John Farinacci to the Providence training camp and placed goaltender Kyle Keyser on waivers ... The Philadelphia sports scene is vibrant with undefeated Eagles (that’s Iggles to the locals) and playoff-bound Phillies jockeying for everyone’s attention ... The Boston Bruins Foundation is marking its 20th anniversary during the 2023 season. The nonprofit provides funds to “charitable organizations that demonstrate a commitment to health and wellness, education, and athletics.” The foundation will donate more than $1 million to a minimum of 20 charities during its anniversary year. “We look forward to continuing to work throughout New England for many decades to come,” Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said in a statement ... Song of the night: “Pipe it Up,” by Migos.