NHL hometown hero Willie Mitchell surprises kids with visit, donates helmets

The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Minor hockey players in Port McNeill, B.C., are in for a big surprise today as NHL defenceman Willie Mitchell shows up to present them with a gift of helmets — just like the one he wears on the ice.

The Los Angeles Kings' player says he's looking forward to pizza at the arena with the boys and girls even though the surprise might be spoiled as word spreads through the small town about his visit.

The former Vancouver Canuck says he'll be the one big kid on the ice as he tells the young players about the importance of protecting their heads from brain injury.

Port McNeill Minor Hockey Club president Scott Mitchell — who's not related to his Stanley Cup-winning namesake but wishes he were — says he barely slept in anticipation of the secret visit at the local arena at 4 p.m.

He says the NHL player who's a hometown hero and a huge supporter of the club will donate 33 helmets to match the number on his LA Kings jersey.

The so-called Messier Project helmets are made with a liner of plastic pods and are more specialized than typical helmets constructed with a foam liner.