A concussion in 2010 nearly ended Willie Mitchells National Hockey League career.
And Thursday, he made the long trek back to his hometown of Port McNeill to help make sure the next generation of hockey players dont have to go through the same painful time he went through.
After his regular workout with Vancouver-based locked out NHLers at UBC on Thursday morning, Mitchell, a member of the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, boarded a plane and flew into Port Hardy. Then he drove down to Port McNeill to his favourite minor hockey rink Chilton Regional Arena and surprised a bunch of Port McNeill minor hockey players. And he came bearing gifts. Mitchell brought with him 33 (his jersey number with the Kings) new M11 helmets, the helmet he was worn since returning to the NHL.
The M11 helmet is designed by the Messier Project and developed to help reduce brain injuries. The technology a linear tubing system (rather than the normal foam found in most helmets) designed to more effectively transfer the energy upon impact and reset at a faster rate is one that immediately caught the attention of Mitchell following his concussion, and now hes helping spread the word.
It was awesome to come back home and see all these smiling faces. It brought back memories from my minor hockey days here, Mitchell said over the phone while having pizza and signing autographs after the session.
And its nice to be able to give back to the community while at the same time bring awareness about brain injuries.
You can have lifelong effects from a brain injury were seeing that in all sports now so to be able to pass on some awareness on the subject is really important to me, and I feel blessed to be able to help these kids.
Most of the associations 120 players were in attendance, and Mitchell got to skate with all of them.
Right from Peanut up to Midget. It was great, Mitchell added. And I know this town well and know that there are a lot of kids and families who cant afford the best equipment, so to help out in that is really special for me, too.
Association president Scott Mitchell (no relation), said 20 of the helmets were given to the Atom team, while the rest were raffled off.
And the ones that were given to the Atom team, well take back at the end of the season, clean them and distribute them to another team next season. So this was a real special gift from Willie, Scott Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he was first drawn to the Messier Project and Cascade Sports, the company out of New York which manufactures the helmet (although they were just purchased by Bauer in June), because they were making an effort to change things.
They were really proactive and pushing the envelope in trying to do something right. And now its slowly gaining in popularity and if I can help that out, Im more than happy to.
Mitchell says the helmets, which can be purchased at Kirby Source for Sports in Victoria, tend to have a tighter fit than the ones he wore in the past.
Theyre more snug and seem to lock to your head more, for me anyway.
And now he just hopes he and his other NHLers can get back to doing what they do best.
I think well be playing soon. I hope so.