Mitch Lane’s legacy will be one of using his passion for hockey to serve others.
That is the takeaway many of Mitch’s friends, hockey colleagues and family had when remembering the life of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks coach, who died September 11 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 44.
Lane, who was given three to six months to live after being diagnosed with the disease in 2014, outlived his prognosis by three years and in the process continued to do what he loved – invest in young hockey players.
“Mitch was a really good coach who understood it’s more about helping young men grow on and off the ice,” said Todd Marchant, whom Lane coached with for several seasons. “He was in it for the right reasons.”
Lane, who grew up in Toronto, played collegiately for Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State and proudly coached his son Zach and nephew Nathan with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.
His widow, Amy, said hockey was crucial in helping sustain Mitch through the ups and downs of treatment.
“Mitch continued to volunteer as an assistant coach and did so through his entire battle,” she said. “He truly loved the sport and the boys. It was definitely his way of giving back to the sport and his community.
“He loved having a positive influence on the boys and seeing them grow into great young men.”
Marchant recalled formally meeting Mitch after seeing him on the ice coaching a 2001 birth year group a several years ago with Craig Johnson and Scott Niedermayer. Marchant knew Lane looked familiar.
His memory was jarred when he met Mitch’s best friend, Martin Machacek, a standout hockey player with Mitch in Toronto. They often competed against Marchant’s teams from Buffalo when they were growing up, and Machacek and Marchant had a friendly rivalry that extended to the prestigious Bill Miller Hockey School.
“Martin and I used to battle, but I didn’t realize he and Mitch were best friends until Mitch introduced us at a Ducks game,” Marchant said. “It turns out I played against Mitch growing up, too.
“When he transferred to Lake State he played two years with my younger brother Terry. It’s funny how that worked out.”
Marchant, as well as Johnson and Niedermayer, coached with Mitch for several years because they all have sons around the same age.
“Mitch was an incredible person,” said Johnson, the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches. “He was a great coach and he had a lot of patience with the kids. He was a great teacher.”
Johnson said his favorite memory of Mitch came when their ’01 team won the Elite Division at the Nike Bauer Invitational in Chicago in fall of 2011.
“Zach scored the overtime winner to win the Elite Division,” Johnson said. “I remember the look on Mitch’s face – how proud he was of Zach and how proud he was of the entire team. It’s always great to see a father’s pride.”
Amy said one of Mitch’s great thrills was working on the ice with Zach and his friends as soon as they were old enough to put gear on. Mitch helped with learn to skate programs, in-house programs, wherever he could.
One of the fruits of Mitch’s perseverance through his battle was being able to see Zach and Nathan win the CAHA Bantam AA State championship and earn a trip to the USA Hockey Nationals in 2016.
“He was so incredibly proud of all the boys,” Amy said. “He truly celebrated their accomplishment and could not have been more proud of everyone involved with the great group of kids.”
The title represented a breakthrough for the group, which had finished runner-up as Pee Wees the previous season.
“We didn’t really know the extent of his pain and suffering, but he was on the bench with us at State, and he made the trip to Nationals in North Carolina,” Marchant said. “Our boys played together for four or five years and that group still gets together a couple of times a year even though they’ve all scattered.
“It’s a pleasure to be a part of that group of families, and the Lanes are a huge part of that.”
Mitch’s influence also extended to Alex Kim, now the Jr. Ducks’ director of hockey operations, but then a junior player in Sault St. Marie who recalled watching Mitch play at Lake State.
“He had this move – a fake slap shot that he pulled back and used to go five-hole on the goalie – I still use that in shootouts with players I coach,” Kim said. “I remember playing men’s league with him and his brother. He was such a good man, and the club misses him dearly.”
Said Marchant, “When Mitch was told he had six months to live and it ended up being three and a half years he felt fortunate to have that time. He was always there for those kids – so giving of his time, and the hockey community will always be there for his family.”
Mitch's family has established the Mitch Lane Memorial Hockey Scholarship fund through the CharitySmith Nonprofit Foundation. The fund will assist youth hockey players with financial needs. Visit charitysmith.org/memorial-funds/mitch-lane/ for more information and to contribute.
- Chris Bayee