North

Cree hockey hopeful living a childhood dream with Habs invite

"The whole Cree Nation is rooting for him … you see that through social media," said the father of Israel Mianscum, one of 40 players invited to take part in the Montreal Canadiens development camp in Brossard, Que.

Mistissini's Israel Mianscum invited to Montreal Canadiens development camp

Israel Mianscum, who plays in the QMJHL for the Sherbrooke Phoenix, was one of only 40 players invited to take part in the Montreal Canadiens development camp happening until July 13 at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Que. Yesterday, a hamstring injury kept him from skating, but his parents are hopeful he will be able to skate Tuesday morning. (Vincent Levesque Rousseau/ Sherbrooke Phoenix)

It was Friday afternoon and Cree social media accounts started buzzing. 

Israel Mianscum, a young Cree hockey prospect from the community of Mistissini, Que., had been invited to a development camp with the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. 

"The whole Cree Nation is rooting for him … you see that through social media," said Israel's father, Louie Mianscum, adding the invite came less than an hour after the NHL entry draft wrapped up in Montreal on Friday afternoon. 

"He was always crazy about the Montreal Canadiens. That was one of his dreams to actually play for them," said mom Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum, who up until the call came, was a committed Pittsburgh Penguins fan. 

He was always crazy about the Montreal Canadiens.- Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum, Israel's mom

Israel got the call while he was in Gatineau playing in a hockey tournament. Someone reached out to his parents, who were in the stands, to make sure the 19-year-old answered his phone.

"It was very special," said Tiffany. "Just seeing his facial expression. He had a big smile on his face … a smile I haven't seen in a while."

This summer Israel has been training in Châteauguay, on break from his team, the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

At Habs practice rink

Now, his parents, uncles and a few cousins and other family members are at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard watching the development camp action on the ice.

Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum, left, and Louie Mianscum, right, are Israel Mianscum's parents. They are with their son at Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Que., near Montreal. Tiffany, formerly a die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fan, says she now proudly wears the Habs logo. (submitted by Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum)

"I told him to play his very best and that we are already super proud of him," said Tiffany. 

"And I told him I loved him and that we support him 110 percent."

On the drive between Gatineau and Brossard, Israel and his dad talked about his hockey journey and his goals. 

"[I told him] The invitation is just the start. Your hard work … you have to show them now. The chance is there," said father Louie. 

[I told him] ... you have to show them now. The chance is there.- Louie Mianscum, Israel's father

A total of 40 players are participating in the Canadiens development camp happening until July 13 at the Brossard rink, according to a news release by the organization. They include players recently drafted, like Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar. 

Israel did not skate with the rest of the development camp on Monday, because of a hamstring injury, but the hope is he will get a chance on Tuesday morning.

Cree Nation Bears director also invited

The Canadiens have also invited guest coach and director of the Cree Nation Bears hockey program, Charly Washipabano, to its development camp as a coach. Washipabano is also the program co-ordinator of the Eeyou Istchee Sports and Recreation Association. He will accompany the Canadiens coaches on the ice during the sessions. 

"It's huge indeed, and something I obviously don't take for granted. Couldn't feel luckier, and humbled by such an opportunity," wrote Washipabano on social media, adding that what Israel has accomplished by receiving his invite is "huge for all of us in the Cree Nation."

Mianscum, pictured around the age of five, started playing hockey at two in Mistissini in northern Quebec. At the age of 11, he followed his talent to Oujé-Bougoumou to play for the Cree Nation Bears. (Submitted by Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum)

Raymond Shanoush is the president of the Eeyou Istchee Sports and Recreation Association. 

"It means a lot [for Israel]," said Shanoush. "They will get to see him perform ... see his endurance ... and his potential."

As hockey player with professional potential from the North, Israel has had to deal with the isolation of moving away from home at a young age to pursue his hockey dreams. 

In his case, it meant leaving home at the age of 11 and moving to another Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou. 

"It's a lonely road for him," said dad Louie.

Sights set on the NHL

It also means rarely visiting home. For the last three years, Israel has taken very little vacation, said his dad Louie. 

On top of the isolation, Israel and his family have also struggled with the high costs associated with playing hockey at this level. In the lead-up to getting the invitation to join the Canadiens development camp, the 19-year-old was without a place to stay and was sleeping on a relative's couch.

"We know he's prepared for it. He only took a week off after the season. He's been doing that for the last three summers. He's really focused on trying to make it to the NHL," said dad Louie, thanking family and the whole Cree Nation for the support received so far. 

Israel's mom Tiffany says she is now proudly wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey. 

"My whole family are Habs fans," she said. "I was a Pittsburgh fan for a long time. [I told Israel] the only time I'm going to change my team is if you play for the Montreal Canadiens."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Bell has worked with CBC News since 1997 as a journalist, writer-broadcaster, radio host and producer. She has been with CBC North since 2009, most recently as a digital producer with the Cree unit in Montreal.

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