Like most young hockey players in Quebec, Israel Mianscum grew up dreaming of one day wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey. He recently experienced the next best thing when he was invited to the team’s development camp, held July 10-13 in Brossard.
“It was really special for my family and me,” Mianscum told the Nation. “To get the call and them telling me I deserved a spot meant a lot. They took me for a reason, so I was just trying to soak it all in, have fun and play my game.”
Although Mianscum wasn’t selected in the NHL’s July 8 entry draft, the 19-year-old received the invitation less than an hour after it finished. He was in Gatineau at the time, playing in a tournament with friends on the Waswanipi Chiefs, when his parents were alerted that someone was trying to reach him.
“Two minutes after receiving the message, that’s when he received the call,” recalled his father, Louie Mianscum. “That was something. I tried to be as calm as possible, but I was just waiting for his reaction. I knew that it was the call – it was surreal. Then he started getting more phone calls. The excitement was amazing.”
With social media accounts across the Cree Nation buzzing with the news, Israel’s parents and several members of his extended family made the trip to Brossard to cheer him on. The trip from Gatineau provided an opportunity to reflect on where his hockey journey has taken him and where it could go next.
“I told him all that hard work is starting to pay off,” said Louie. “Before he left Mistissini, he had a backyard rink and that’s where it all started. As a kid that’s all he did – he never went anywhere without his stick or equipment. That’s what I remember most.”
Skating since the age of two, Israel’s coaches have always been impressed by his advanced level of discipline and work ethic. He first left home at age 11 to play with the Cree Nation Bears in Ouje-Bougoumou, overcoming homesickness to excel with the Bears and later teams in Rouyn-Noranda and Amos.
In 2019, Israel played for Team Canada at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and made his debut with the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During this summer’s off-season, he has been training in Châteauguay while recovering from a hamstring strain, which kept him off the ice for the first day of the Canadiens’ development camp.
Among the 40 players participating at the camp, Mianscum was one of seven prospects invited on a try-out basis. Brossard’s Bell Sports Complex was packed with fans taking in the fast-paced drills and catching their first glimpse of new first-round picks Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar.
“They’re all stars on their own teams,” Israel noted. “It’s a big step up. I was just a sponge, learning as much as I can there. A lot of timing, spacing, finding the opening, trying to be dangerous without the puck, the way you shoot – small tactics I can add to my game.”
The director of the Cree Nation Bears program, Charly Washipabano, was also invited to this year’s camp as a guest coach. Humbled by this unique opportunity, he also tried to absorb as much as possible to share with the next generation of rising talent in Eeyou Istchee.
“There’s no way anyone in my shoes would turn that chance down,” Washipabano told the Nation. “It was inspiring and educational. We now clearly see what it takes to make it to the next level. I’m sitting down now and rewriting some of the drills I saw – the biggest influence I took away was creating habits that will help them in the long run.”
Along with the innovative exercises introduced by new director of hockey development Adam Nicholas, Washipabano was inspired by the off-ice workshops. Seminars covered topics such as sports psychology, sports science and fitness. Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy also spoke to the players as part of the Respect and Consent program.
“It’s not only the physical preparation but the mental aspect as well,” said Washipabano. “As far as the Bears program, that’s one of the biggest things where we need to step our own game up. I’m not saying I’m going to bring the Habs system to the Cree Nation Bears, but there are certain aspects that we could bring to even the young ages.”
Attending the camp with another familiar face from the Cree Nation made the experience particularly special for both Mianscum and Washipabano. Of course, wearing the Habs jersey made it even more meaningful for lifelong fans like Israel and his father.
Israel’s mother Tiffany Neeposh Mianscum had always been a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, but her family says “she’s coming around” since his invitation. She proudly wore a Habs sweater to cheer on her son.
“We remember around three years ago when we passed that building in Brossard and he said, ‘Someday I’ll skate with the Habs’,” recalled Louie. “And it happened. A door was opened, and it was an awesome experience. I just loved the weekend. We were only supposed to stay until Sunday and come back to work, but we couldn’t miss watching him skate around in that jersey – it’s still surreal.”
For Israel, the camp represented “a good first step” towards his dream of playing in the NHL. While he’s thankful for the support he’s received from everyone in the Cree Nation, he has little time for social media distractions now that he understands better than ever what it will take to reach the big league.
“It’s a great feeling to have my community and the Cree Nation behind my back,” Israel acknowledged. “I can’t focus too much on what’s going on around me. I have to just focus on myself and one day I know it’s going to come. I’ve just got to be patient and keep on believing.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter