Before Willie Mitchell became a mainstay as a Vancouver Canuck, he was just an Island boy (from Port McNeill) dreaming of playing for the local team.
When he started at his local rink, skating around wearing his Canuck V jersey, he only imagined that he'd be putting one on everyday.
After 546 NHL games, he hasn't forgotten everything that was needed to get him where he is today. From the long drives to the salmon sandwiches, every detail was told as if it was just yesterday.
Mitchell shares his tales on his road to the NHL.
How old were you when you got your first pair of skates?
Probably around the same time I got my first pair of sneakers so I’m going to say three.
I know I started playing hockey when I was four and started skating when I was three so it’s probably somewhere around there.
Do you remember when you were learning to skate?
I took figure skating when I first started - I played hockey and took figure skating - and I did a lot of noon hour hockey. I was fortunate enough that 30 seconds across our school’s soccer field was an ice rink so I’d go there every lunch hour and play hockey at the Port McNeill regional arena - the only one in town.
I’d go do that all the time, every lunch hour. Growing up on the water and being on the ocean, mother and father would be there with my gear, waiting for me with a salmon sandwich. I’d eat my salmon sandwich while they tied my skates and then I’d go on the ice and do my thing.
I eventually got to a point where I could tie my own skates and bring my own sandwich and do it all on my own.
What was your first hockey team?
It was just like everyone else, I played peanuts but my first major organized hockey team was my minor hockey team was the North Island Eagles.
Growing up, the rink was my...
How did you get into hockey?
My dad played hockey and all my brothers played hockey but my grandfather was kind of the inspiration for all of us.
He had tryouts with some NHL teams, he was assigned to the Montreal Canadiens farm team so he was kind of my inspiration for myself and my brothers. That’s how I got introduced to hockey.
And growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, there’s not a whole lot to do so you go to the ice rink and burn some of that energy off.
What role did your family have?
They really sacrificed a lot of things, inevitably, for the betterment of me and my sister (who’s a figure skater) because we spent a lot of time at the rink. You don’t realize that until you get to this point now.
My closest hockey rink was two hours and 15 minutes away in Campbell River. My next closest was two hours and 45 minutes and then the next closest was four hours and then six, and seven and it goes on.
The league where I played in, the team where I grew up, we’d play all the way in Victoria and back in the time, they didn’t have the inland Island highway like they do now so anything from a six an half hour drive to a two hour and 15 minute drive to take me to hockey games so I definitely owe them a lot.
What is your favourite childhood hockey memory?
Winning peewee double A provincials for our team - that always sticks out for me. We basically cleaned up the whole tournament. We were a really good peewee double A team.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Live in the present and enjoy the moment.”
It’s from the book The Power of Now guy by Eckhart Tolle, who is actually local - he Lives in Vancouver. It’s really inspirational life stuff. He’s really about living in the present and the power of now, being in the moment, not worried about how that’s going to turn out, just enjoy this moment that you have right now.
What advice you would give to someone aspiring to be in the NHL?
Play, hard, enjoy it, but try to do it while getting your education.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get where you are?
Million-plus other people wanting to do this too.