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Quesnel hockey coach makes NHL

Mitch Love has been named to the Washington Capitals staff
Quesnel’s Mitch Love has been named an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals. (Washington Capitals submitted photo)

Mitch Love has made it to the NHL.

The Quesnel minor hockey kid has climbed all the way to the National Hockey League. On June 22 he was named an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals.

As a youth, Love played for three teams as a hard-nosed combination depth forward and defender in the Western Hockey League. He led the WHL and set a Swift Current Broncos franchise record for penalty minutes, in the 2002-03 season with 327.

His toughness was combined with a high hockey IQ, and he could put up points in his limited ice time. This multi-tool profile took him next to the pro ranks, making the AHL (second only to the NHL in talent and prestige) the very next year after he aged out of the WHL. He played five seasons in the “A” with a brief stint in the ECHL and another in the Central Hockey League, winning the league championship with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs to finish life as a player.

But Love and hockey were not done with each other, nor Love and trophies. He was snapped up by the Everett Silvertips as an assistant coach back in the WHL, then head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. The results were strongly in his coaching favour. He was then hired by the Calgary Flames as head coach of their AHL affiliate where he was most recently employed, winning back to back Pacific Division titles, this past season’s league regular season champions, and is the reigning back to back AHL Coach of the Year.

This was plenty of evidence for the Washington Capitals who are in the process of rebuilding their coaching staff. During the week he turned 39 (his birthday is June 15) he and the Caps were closing the deal on his ascent to the NHL.

“The Washington Capitals have named Mitch Love as an assistant coach, senior vice-president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today,” said a team news release on Thursday. “Love, who will primarily work with the Capitals’ defensemen, will join assistant coach Scott Allen and goaltending coach Scott Murray on head coach Spencer Carbery’s staff.”

The Capitals pointed out that “Love became just the third coach in AHL history to win back-to-back Pieri Awards (top coach) and the first to do so in his first two seasons in the league.”

Love, in his time with the Flames affiliate Calgary Wranglers has amassed a record of 96 wins to 33 losses (plus 11 overtime losses), won three playoff rounds and is the reigning back-to-back AHL Coach of the Year award winner.

There was talk of Love being named to the vacant head coaching position with the Calgary Flames, but that position got filled the previous week by Ryan Huska. Flames new general manager Craig Conroy talked publicly at the time that Love needed, in his view, some time at the NHL level before he should be thrust into head coaching pressure, indicating Love might be getting the call up to the Flames bench as an assistant under Huska, but the Capitals made their move first.

“Internationally, Love was an assistant coach on Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship and served in the same role at the 2021 tournament, earning a silver medal,” said his new NHL team in their assessment of his coaching assets. “Love coached Capitals forward Connor McMichael at both tournaments.”

The Capitals are looking for a bounce-back season after finishing with a 39-39-9 record, this past injury-affected campaign, and missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They aren’t that far removed from their 2018 Stanley Cup victory, and division titles in ‘19 and ‘20.