Photo by Fred Trask
When I first saw Mitch Love play this season, the first thing I thought of was The Pretenders' "Thin Line Between Love and Hate." Because while his teammates and most of the fans were going to love him, just about everybody else would hate him. And it's not because he's not a nice guy, which he is, it's because of the way he plays hockey.
Houston Aeros coach Kevin Constantine sees Love as a high-energy guy, and much like last season's high-energy guy, Cal Clutterbuck, Love does his best work by getting under the skin of the other team.
That's where the thin line between love and hate comes in: the coach, teammates, and fans love that agitating; the other team sees him as a pushy pest who needs to be handled. That's probably why Love is tied for first in major penalty minutes among AHL defenseman despite having played in only 31 games.
"We just noticed our team's tenacity went up when Mitch played," Constantine says. "He just found a way to keep the other team honest." And Love keeps the other teams honest with his fists.
Love doesn't just fight anybody or at anytime. He'll fight if the team's energy level is low because a good fight can often raise the team's energy level. It also raises the energy level of the crowd, and an energetic crowd also helps raise the energy of the team. Love's also the guy who gets in a fight when one of the Aeros skill players is being beaten up on by one of the other team's bad guys.
"Every place I go I've kind of done the same thing and played the same role," Love says. "Obviously the fans take a liking into that stuff. They pay good dollar to come watch us play, and whether we win or lose you want to entertain them and make sure they come back for some more."
And the fans are entertained by Love. He's got his own song that plays when he's in fight, George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love?" And while hockey fans love fights in general, the Aeros fans really get into Love's fights, generally because he's smaller than the guy he's going up against yet he's still kicking the guy's ass. And after the fight, as he skates to the penalty box where he's going to be spending the next five minutes, Love often raises his arms to the crowd and encourages the applause.
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"For myself, not being the biggest guy in the world, I've had a lot of practice at it, and a lot of guys along the way in my career have helped me out with different aspects," Love says. "I just try to keep my head away from the big boys and the long arms, and I try to come to the gym a lot."
Love is also a bit of a man of a letters, and his once a week blog provides insight into the life of a minor league hockey player for the good folks of Seattle, Washington. "An executive producer named Su Ring from Seattle, KING 5 News, kind of called me and we did a quick interview." Love previously played for the Seattle area Everett Silvertips of the WHL. "She's big into hockey and she wanted to bump up interest a little bit, and I spend my summers there, so I enjoy it. I get the guys [his teammates] involved in it a little bit, and I talk about things on the road. So people kind of understand the lives we live away from the rink."
And as for Mitch Love, he likes it here in Houston. "I've played in Albany, Cleveland, and Lowell, and I don't miss the snow," he says. "It's nice to wake up in the morning and the sun's shining and you can wear shorts to the rink."
It's a thin line that Mitch Love skates. The fans, his coach, his teammates, and the Aeros fans love Mitch Love. They love his energy and his showmanship and the way he sticks up for his teammates. The opposition might hate him, but what the opposition hates doesn't matter.