Mitch Callahan is one of the veterans on a young Grand Rapids Griffins team this season. The sixth-round pick in 2009 was drafted for his ability to agitate and get under opponents’ skin, but he also has contributed offensively during his time in Grand Rapids, as his scoring numbers have gone up with each year.
Callahan, a native of Whittier, California, was part of the 2011 United States World Junior team that took home bronze and was on the 2012-13 Calder Cup championship team in Grand Rapids. This season, he is third on the team in scoring with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games.
Callahan sat down with The Hockey Writers on Friday after his team’s 2-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers.
The Hockey Writers: You, Andy Miele and Teemu Pulkkinen have had success on the top line, what has been the key to that success this year?
Mitch Callahan: I think playing our own role. I think I’m the guy that gets in on the forecheck, and the guy that creates space for those two guys. Miele really is smart with the puck, and obviously, Pulk has the big shot. So, I think when we play within our boundaries, we can be a really deadly line.
THW: Early in the season, you guys struggled to play a full 60 minutes and lately you’ve been finishing games. What do you think has changed between the beginning of the season and now at this point?
MC: We have a pretty young team, new team compared to last year. I think there’s only like four or five guys remaining from the previous year. I think with that, it takes some building chemistry-wise, and once we got that going I think we kind of figured out that, if we play within our limits, play within our structure and play with our intensity, we can be a good team.
THW: Being from California, hockey isn’t as big out there as it is over here. What got you into hockey in the first place?
MC: My dad, he’s from Toronto. So he grew up playing hockey, and he played a little bit of semi-pro in California. When I was younger, I would just skate with him and his team after a game, and I just fell in love with the sport right away.
THW: The theme song when you score is “California Love.” Is that something you chose, or is that something the Griffins just happened to play?
MC: I chose that for sure. I think it’s a unique thing being the only kid from California my rookie year, and I just kind of stuck with it.
THW: Were you a big Kings fan growing up?
MC: Yeah, Kings fan, but I think I was more of a Toronto fan. I had a (Darcy) Tucker jersey growing up, he was my favorite player. Once I started to get a little older, I think I kind of moved toward the Kings side.
THW: What did you think of the Stadium Series played in Dodger Stadium last year and now at the San Francisco 49ers stadium this year?
MC: I think it’s great for California hockey. I think the development of California hockey is actually getting a lot better. Especially, seeing the kids play at 16 and 17 compared to when I was there — it’s a night and day difference. I think it’s good to expose ice hockey a little more to southern California now, even northern California. I think the state’s going to fall in love with it.
THW: Who did you idolize growing up? Anybody else besides Tucker?
MC: I liked Tucker. I didn’t really have a favorite on the Kings. I think maybe Luc Robitaille, just because he was a goal scorer back then. Tucker was my favorite player.
THW: You got a taste of the NHL last year, played in one game. Obviously, you were understandably frustrated with your lack of callups, but how do you keep yourself motivated to try and get back there?
MC: I want to be up at that level and get a chance, but that’s something I can’t control. I only control what I do on the ice and how I play the game. If I start worrying about what they’re thinking of me or what their intentions are, then I lose focus on my game. I try and focus on my game because, even if it’s not Detroit, there’s also 29 other NHL teams watching you play every night. So, you got to put on a show for everybody.
THW: I saw you chirping Tomas Tatar during the World Junior Championships. Did you have a bet going with him, or was that all in fun?
MC: That’s just the way me and Tats are. Even when we play together, we were always kind of chirping each other the whole time. I think it’s all in good fun.
THW: Did you have any bets with of the guys on the Griffins?
MC: Yeah, I lost a steak dinner to Nathan Paetsch for the Canada-USA game.
THW: What’s your favorite hockey memory?
MC: Either winning the Calder Cup, that’s probably No. 1, actually. That was a special moment seeing grown men act like kids celebrating is probably the coolest thing you experience with them. Playing World Juniors was pretty big in my hockey life so far too.
THW: What was the World Junior Championship experience like?
MC: At 19 years old, it was unbelievable. The atmosphere and playing with the best under-20 kids in the world was unbelievable.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.