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Trading in frozen ice for flowing water in Chilliwack

Kevin Estrada has gone from Chiefs superstar to founder of Sturgeon Slayers
Kevin Estrada was an amazing player with the Chilliwack Chiefs and was eventually drafted by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. However, an accident cut his career short. He is now the founders of Sturgeon Slayers. (Submitted photo)

Contributed by Ryleigh Mulvihill

Special to Black Press Media

When Kevin Estrada attended a tryout for the Chilliwack Chiefs at 15 years old, he was in prime physical form and ready to play a style of hockey with older, mature players. He did not know, however, that another side of his game would be developed along the way, and what he learned from the Chiefs would still resonate in his life now.

Estrada, a talented left winger from Surrey, BC, shined playing hockey at the Burnaby Winter Club. In 1997, then head coach of the Chiefs, Harvey Smyl, recruited him. All these years later, he is still grateful for the opportunity Smyl gave him saying, “when a coach gives you a chance, that you have to earn, that is everything.”

Estrada says he was poised and ready to move away from home to pursue hockey at a young age. His confidence was put on full display when he made a fashion statement that is well-known within the Chiefs organization. He took after Sergei Fedorov in the NHL and wore white Nike skates. “I was young and confident, I didn’t care what other people thought,” said Estrada.

Those white skates and firm conviction carried Estrada from six points in his first season to 118 in his last. He was on the BCHL and Mowat Cup Champion team in 1999-‘00, and captained the Chiefs the following season.

Smyl was taking a chance on a very young player who still had to develop, and it paid off. Ultimately, that is the goal of the BCHL. To date, the Chiefs have sent over 220 players to play in the NCAA. Estrada is one of them.

The opportunity to play college hockey was a perk of hard work, determination, and a great BCHL career. But more importantly, Estrada wanted more. He saw his dreams realized when he was selected as the 91st pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. More determined than ever, he fell back on what he learned from Smyl as a Chief… mental toughness.

Estrada describes Harvey as a “legend” in his development. Smyl saw the physical play in Estrada but recognized he lacked the mental side of the game.

“Harvey groomed me to not only be a mentally tough hockey player but he developed young boys into men,” says Estrada.

That young man went off to Michigan State, following in the footsteps of his beloved coach ‘Harv’. Ready to improve his play in the NCAA to hopefully go professional, Estrada did not get the experience in Michigan he had hoped for. He didn’t play as much as he would have liked but chose to look at the favourable side of the situation like Coach Smyl taught him to do. He valued any action on the ice and saw it as a chance to develop for NHL Rookie Camp. He said, “you go from highs, and what you perceive as lows at the time, but they really aren’t.”

Estrada signed an NHL contract and played in the AHL the following season after his time as a Spartan. He also had the chance to play for the Herlev Hornets in Denmark, where he was the captain and leader in points. The experiences in hockey, dedicated training, and play in multiple leagues around the world was looking up toward a hopeful career in the NHL.

Then, an accident changed the trajectory of Estrada’s life and career. In 2009, the then 27-year-old was involved in a float plane crash. The accident left him with injuries that plagued the rest of his career. After three more seasons, 19 months off, and many surgeries, he retired.

Estrada says the mental fortitude he learned from Harvey as a teenager helped him through a difficult time trying to recover, as well as figuring out what was next after hockey. “Harvey taught me to work for it and stay positive. Over the four years [in Chilliwack], I developed that.”

He had completed a business plan for fishing but expected it to come to a realization much later in life. Trading in frozen ice for flowing water, Estrada endeavoured to put his plan into action.

Sturgeon Slayers is now one of the most successful fishing companies in the Fraser Valley. It has been featured on National Geographic, Discovery, BBC Earth, and many other outlets. Estrada is the founder and operator. He now dedicates his life to the conservation of sturgeon and guiding fishing trips.

In 2021, with legendary NHL player Pete Peeters on board, Estrada and the group caught the longest white sturgeon ever recorded on the Fraser River. Measuring 11”6 ½’ inches long at the time, the fish was tagged to continue its life in the river.

The catch symbolized everything Estrada had worked towards. Even though his hockey career did not pan out the way he wanted, the lessons he learned from Smyl, the Chiefs, and the BCHL helped build a thriving business. Physical play was his biggest asset at 15 years old, but the mental toughness is what Estrada carries with him today.

Estrada is friends with current Chiefs Head Coach Brian Maloney and has also kept in touch with other hockey friends over the years. The game has recently come back into his life in a different way. His six-year-old daughter played hockey last season, and his three-year-old son is just learning how to skate. The proud father jokingly referenced his time with the Chiefs saying, “maybe there is a spot he can play junior hockey in!”

Since moving to Chilliwack at the age of 15, Estrada has never looked back. He now has a family that is involved in the community and owns a thriving business to boot. One of the best players to ever wear the Chiefs jersey, Estrada still lives and works where his skate blade first hit the ice 26 years ago.

Gushing about his love for the city, its nature, and its people, he says, “Chilliwack is home.”

Ryleigh Mulvihill is student at Centennial College in Ontario. She is completing a six-week nternship with the Chilliwack Chiefs as part of her course.

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