Israel Mianscum took another big step on his hockey journey on October 1, hitting the ice at Val-d’Or’s Air Creebec Centre for the first time as a player for the Sherbrooke Phœnix – with a large contingent of supporters from Eeyou Istchee on hand for the contest.
Mianscum did not disappoint in what is likely to be the first of many Quebec major junior hockey appearances at Air Creebec Centre. With the Phœnix trailing the Val-d’Or Foreurs 3-2 late in the third period, Mianscum set up Nathael Roy’s game-tying marker. That set the stage for Alex-Olivier Voyer’s overtime goal to give Sherbrooke a 4-3 win.
The 16-year-old Mistissini native’s hockey homecoming marked the latest milestone in a junior hockey career that began when Mianscum was selected 10th overall by the Phœnix in the 2019 QMJHL Draft.
Mianscum’s hockey stock rose steadily last year in an injury-shortened season playing for the AAA Midget Amos Forestiers, racking up 21 goals and 14 assists in only 35 games. The six-foot, one-inch, 190-pound power forward also turned heads prior to last spring’s draft, claiming MVP honours at the Gatorade Excellence Challenge after potting seven goals and six assists in five games to lead the Québec-Bleu squad to a tournament win.
However, his high draft ranking and the media attention that followed has failed to shake this down-to-earth teenager. After getting drafted, Mianscum spent the summer training with Montreal Canadiens conditioning coach Pierre Allard, and showed up at his first QMJHL training camp ready to win a job; something that made an immediate impression on Phœnix coach Stéphane Julien.
“I saw him play a few times last year, and we were very impressed. He made good progress under sometimes difficult circumstances in Amos and at the (Gatorade Excellence Challenge) tournament,” explained Julien.
“And I like the way he arrived at training camp. He arrived in good shape, with the right attitude,” said Julien.
“You know, it’s tough for a 16-year-old playing with 19- and 20-year-olds. But he came here ready to work hard, and by the end of training camp, we had to make a spot for him, because there was no doubt in our minds that he was a part of our team.”
While Mianscum made a strong first impression in his junior debut, he still has plenty of work to do before he can count himself among the QMJHL’s elite. A prototypical power forward who isn’t afraid to get physical on the ice, Mianscum brings plenty of size to his junior hockey game. However, it is a superior skill set that impresses Coach Julien.
“Israel already has the body of an 18-year-old. He’s a big kid. Right now he is in our top nine forwards, with good speed and good hands,” explained Julien. “But we want to see progress from day one to keep up with the pace throughout the season, and so far, he’s doing that.”
“As a coach, when you see a kid progress, even early in the season, it means he cares about what he’s doing. And at the moment, we’re not asking a lot out of him, in terms of points. We just want see him take steps.”
The steps have come quickly for Mianscum in the early going of the season. After getting over the excitement of his junior hockey debut against Chicoutimi September 20, Mianscum got on the scoresheet a day later, setting up a goal in the club’s 6-4 win over Gatineau.
“It was pretty amazing. The feeling I had skating out of the tunnel for the first game, with all my family waiting for me,” said Mianscum. “I know I worked so hard to get here, and it just gave me goosebumps at that moment taking the ice. Getting my first point so quickly took a lot of pressure off.”
Mianscum has also enjoyed considerable support from his older teammates, singling out Samuel Poulin, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring, as a source of support and inspiration.
“My teammates have been great,” he enthused. “I feel like I fit in, and the guys have been a big help. It’s junior hockey now. I wanted to contribute to the team as soon as possible, and I’ve been lucky to do that.”
Part of the motivation driving Mianscum stems from being snubbed by Team Quebec ahead of this year’s Canada Games. Despite enjoying a solid camp and strong season with Amos, Mianscum failed to crack the final lineup for Team Quebec. But he subsequently channeled that emotion and frustration into his preparation for his junior debut, which caught the eye of scouts from Hockey Canada.
“We expect to see scouts coming out soon to take a look at Israel for Canada’s Under-17 team,” said Coach Julien. “That would be an experience that would really help his development, and his chances of making it to the NHL.”
But Mianscum is not dwelling on a spot with Team Canada, instead focusing all his efforts on contributing in Sherbrooke.
“I’m not trying to think about it,” Mianscum said. “But it’s true every player wants to make that team, and I want to have my place there if I can.”
A big part of that focus involved preparing for the Val-d’Or match at the beginning of October, which proved to be an emotional experience for the budding teen star.
“It really was an emotional experience,” said Miamscum, when asked to discuss his return to Val-d’Or. “Two nights [before the game], I just couldn’t sleep because I knew my whole family would be here. It felt good coming home. It made it extra special.”
His teammates knew it was special, he added. “They knew I had a lot of family here, and they were pretty happy for me, and to have a lot of Phœnix fans in the crowd.”
The same was true after entertaining family and friends with his game-tying assist, which was met by wild celebrations from Cree fans seated behind the Sherbrooke bench.
“I couldn’t really hear the cheers because I was busy celebrating on the ice,” he said with a laugh.
While Mianscum’s junior career is off to a fast start, he demonstrates wisdom and humility beyond his years in understanding how much more work he has to do to bring his game to the next level. But the youngster still maintains lofty goals for both himself and his teammates.
“We’re a big team, and I need to learn as much as I can from the older guys on my team,” he observed. “Hopefully we can get a championship this season, and maybe I can be a leader next season. But really, I’m just taking it a day at a time, enjoying the moment and the chance to play hockey.”