ADAMS TWP — What a difference a year makes.
Danny Mitchell was the starting goaltender for the Mars varsity hockey team last season, compiling a goals-against average in the low 3s and a save percentage of .880.
“We finished around .500 and lost in the first round of the playoffs,” he said. “It wasn’t very good.
“I felt I had to step up my game, get to the next level.”
So the 6-foot-2, 170-pound netminder — after playing for the North Pittsburgh Wildcats for years — decided to try out for the Esmark Stars U18 team, based out of New Kensington and a member of the North American Prospects Hockey League.
“I didn’t know who he was, never heard of him,” Esmark U18 coach Dave Kosick said of Mitchell. “But we do have open tryouts and we had 15 goalies on the ice looking for a spot on the team.
“Danny stood out. He’s been making a name for himself ever since.”
Mitchell made the squad and splits time with Parker Rey, a goalie from Michigan.
The NAPHL named Mitchell its Apex Learning Virtual School Peak Performer U18 No. 1 star for October. He was 4-0 in his first four games for Esmark.
Mitchell posted a pair of shutouts during the NAPHL’s October play in Blaine, Minn. He made 17 saves in a 5-0 win over Valley Forge and 31 stops in a 3-0 triumph over the Sioux Falls Power.
Overall, Mitchell is 15-3-1 with four shutouts, a GAA of 2.24 and save percentage of .920 for Esmark. He was 2-0 with a shutout during the team’s trip to Dallas, Tx., in November.
“The competition at these (NAPHL) events has been fantastic,” Mitchell said. “I have no doubt it’s helped elevate my game.”
Mitchell is off to a 9-1 start for Mars this year as well, sporting a GAA near 2.00 and a save percentage of .921.
“He’s a big kid who eats net,” Kosick said. “Danny is a young guy who wants to succeed. You can see it in his play.
“He knows how to reduce scoring percentages and cut down angles. He takes away space from the shooters and that’s what quality goalies do.”
Kosick emphasized how difficult it is to achieve the No. 1 star for a month in the NAPHL.
“There are 20 teams in the league that have 40 of the best goalies in the nation in his age group,” the coach said. “To be named No. 1 out of that group at any point is quite an achievement.”
After his senior year at Mars, Mitchell is hopeful of playing junior hockey in the NAHL or USHL.