By Chris Cocoles
Although I’m a diehard fan of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks – and those closest to me know how loyal I am to Team Teal- I have rarely written stories that were more fun than my profile of Willie Mitchell, who just happens to play defenseman for one of San Jose’s most fierce rivals, the Los Angeles Kings. Mitchell provided some great insight on his passion for helping to preserve wild salmon in the waters around his British Columbia, Canada home.
Mitchell’s story in its entirety will be available in the January issue of California Sportsman. Here’s a sneak peek, along with some extra photos Willie was nice enough to send me.
HIS PLAYING DAYS have taken Willie Mitchell all over North America, spending time with his home province’s favorite team, the Vancouver Canucks, the New Jersey Devils, the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and now the Kings. But his heart always tugs at him over the natural beauty of his Canadian roots. Mitchell grew up in Port McNeill, a small logging town (population: around 2,700) on the North Island section of Vancouver Island. It’s considered the “Gateway to the Broughton Archipelago,” a maze of islands dotting the mouth of Knight Inlet on the west side of Queen Charlotte Strait. Mitchell could have moonlighted for the local chamber of commerce the way he proudly described the flora and fauna of this area. It’s one of the most ecologically diverse areas of North America, with large populations of killer whales, harbor seals, sea lions and sea otters. “Eco-tourism in our area has just exploded in the last 10 years,” he says. “That’s just the way of life.” And there are the salmon. Lots of salmon. One of young Willie’s memories was his father bringing him a protein-packed salmon sandwich to eat before or after hockey practice at the local rink. “That’s all I’d eat, every time, fresh salmon sandwiches,” he says with a laugh. But as Mitchell has discovered over the years, there is concern about the long-term sustainability of the wild salmon that annually enter and exit the archipelago through a series of waterways and rivers.