Stanley Cup-winning NHL defenceman Willie Mitchell signs autographs at a special event in 2017. He is one of four 2018B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees. Black Press file photo

Former NHL’er dishes on life after hockey

B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Willie Mitchell on life after the Vancouver Canucks and hockey

After a 17-year NHL career, two Stanley Cups and now, an induction into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame, Willie Mitchell has no regrets on exchanging his hockey stick for a fishing pole.

“Technically, it’s more of an office pen. I can’t find one nearly as long as hockey stick, but I wish I could so I don’t have to be in the office and can write my notes from afar,” joked Mitchell, who is an avid outdoorsman and successful businessman as the president and managing partner of Tofino Resort and Marina, which also conducts adventure tours.

Related: Video – Ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell spots rare salmon shark off Tofino

Mitchell, who was born in Port McNeil, B.C., was known for being a physical defenseman. He played junior A in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Kelowna Spartans before joining the Melfort Mustangs in Saskatchewan. He will return to his old stomping grounds this weekend for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Penticton on July 20.

“Yeah, it’s been awhile since I have been in Penticton. I spent a short time in Kelowna and I am pretty sure my first legit junior game there was a line brawl. I remember being right in the middle of it all,” said Mitchell.

His hockey career quickly took off after he won an ECAC championship with Clarkson University in 1999 — also earning the playoff MVP and ECAC First Team All-Star honours. He was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft and shuffled around NHL teams when his boyhood dreams came true — the Vancouver Canucks signed him in the 2006 off-season. He eventually landed in Los Angeles where he won two Stanley Cups (2012, 2014) and signed with the Florida Panthers in the 2014 off-season. Hockey then took a backseat to his health and his family.

“It’s weird. For everyone, it is different when you decide you don’t want to play hockey anymore. For me, I took a hit to the head and didn’t want to take the risk for my family. I wanted to be a father. Once that happened I was ready to move on from hockey,” said Mitchell.

“It was a weird situation to walk into Rogers Arena (where the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame induction announcement was made earlier this year) because I know I could have still played, but mentally I have moved on. It was the right thing for me and my family. It’s not that I don’t want to bring back all the memories of playing hockey, because they were beautiful, but there is more than that. Seeing players I strived to be like allowed me to reach my dreams and that would be way cooler if I could be something like that to the next kids coming up. Let kids see what I did and know that they can aspire to reach their goals and dreams like I did, whether that is in hockey or not.

Other inductees include Gerry Sillers, 1979/80 Hardy Cup Champion Burnaby Lakers and defenceman Scott Hannan (from Surrey) spent 16 years in the NHL, 11 of which he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.

The Burnaby Lakers senior men’s hockey team did what no other Lower Mainland team and only two other B.C. teams had done before — win the Canadian Intermediate A hockey championship Hardy Cup. Sillers has been a member of the Vancouver Canucks hockey family since 1968-69. He turned pro with the WHL Canucks and in his rookie season shared a WHL championship resulting in the team being inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. Following his playing career in 1974-75, he joined the Canucks alumni where he was president for 28 years until his retirement in 2017. Since its inception, many of those years led by Sellers, the Canucks alumni have raised closed to $2 million for charitable, non-profit and amateur hockey organizations.

The B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame induction dinner and auction takes place on July 20 at the Penticton Lakeside Resort at 5 p.m. Tickets to the event are $90. Dennis Hull, who played 14 years in the NHL and suited up for Canada for the Summit Series against the Soviet Union, will be the guest speaker of the evening.


Kristi Patton | Editor

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