Silas Neeposh has had a busy year. In addition to attending school, the 18-year-old from Mistissini has also been very busy pursuing his hockey dream. Currently, he is patrolling the blue line for the Kahnawake Condors of the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League.
The Condors jersey is not the only one that Neeposh has worn this year. Neeposh spent the 2010-2011 season with the Midget AAA Amos Forestiers, and was also part of the Sport-Études program, which enables elite level athletes to pursue their sport of choice while ensuring that they also excel in the classroom.
“I was in Amos last year and had a really good season. Three years ago was my first year there.
Going there as a 16-year-old, it was a really good experience. The guys and coaches treated me really well.”
After his second successful season in Amos during which he recorded 24 points and 56 penalty minutes in 42 games, Neeposh suited up for Team Eastern Door and the North at the 2011 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, held in Saskatoon at the end of April.
Team Eastern Door and the North fell short of a championship, losing to Saskatchewan in the gold medal game, but Neeposh made his mark earning 1st Team All-Star accolades at the tournament.
After some time off the ice this summer, Neeposh donned yet another jersey in August; this time the jersey of the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens, where he attended training camp this summer for the second year in a row.
“I was invited to camp (by the Saguenéens),” explains Neeposh. “Quebec Major is a big league and it was a dream of mine to be there. The guys are way stronger and there are some who have been drafted by the NHL. But I thought I did good there.”
Although Neeposh would eventually be one of Chicoutimi’s final cuts at training camp, Saguenéens General Manager Marc Fortier agrees with Neeposh’s assessment of his performance.
“We debated a lot before we cut him, but we have a lot of defensemen who are experienced this year,” explained Fortier.
“Maybe he needs to work on his strength. He is a really nice skater. We were impressed by the way he played and his attitude. When we cut him it didn’t have anything to do with the person. It was just circumstances that made it a difficult choice for us. Hopefully he will be a good player for us next year.”
Despite being cut by the Saguenéens, Neeposh still feels that he has a future in the QMJHL. “That is part of my plan,” he said. “But right now I just want to play well where I am (in Kahnawake), and play as much as possible.”
“We thought going to Kahnawake would be a good experience for him,” added Fortier. “I think one more year for him will be huge.”
But Neeposh’s hard work did not go unnoticed. In early September, Neeposh received the chance to pull on yet another jersey when he got the call from Hockey Canada, inviting him to attend the evaluation camp for Team Canada East, one of two Canadian squads that participated in the recent 2011 World Junior A Challenge in Langley, BC.
The World Junior A Challenge is an annual under-20 international ice hockey tournament sponsored by Hockey Canada, the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL), and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The tournament showcases Junior A level players and is modeled after the IIHF World U20 Championships, which displays the best of all junior-aged hockey players.
“The way he played at our camp, I am not surprised he was invited,” said Fortier. “You are not invited to a Team Canada camp if you are not progressing as a player. So the invite means he is progressing in the good way.”
An important part of Neeposh’s preparation of the Team Canada East camp was Kahnawake Condors’ coach Patrice Bosch, who has twice coached Team Canada East in the World Junior A Challenge and knew what Neeposh would face in camp.
“I told him when he was picked for the camp that he should expect that he will be with high-calibre hockey players; players who have been drafted by the NHL, or who will be next year,” explained Bosch.
“It’s an unbelievable level of hockey. It’s like being in the NHL for two weeks. You are surrounded by professionals. For a kid like Silas it will be an experience he will remember. He should be extremely proud. That is an experience he can bring when he goes up to the QMJHL.”
Indeed, the Team Canada East camp had a powerful impact on Neeposh. “I was in awe. Trying to represent my country was the best feeling you could have. It was unbelievable,” he said with a big grin.
“It was a privilege to just be at the camp, to be noticed by the scouts and by Hockey Canada, and I enjoyed every minute I was there. Hopefully, I still have a chance there next year.”
Neeposh did have a strong camp, including setting up a goal during the first camp scrimmage. However, yet again, Neeposh was one of the final cuts from the Canadian East team that would go on to win silver at the tournament.
But Neeposh remains undeterred, as evidenced by his solid performance this season with the Kahnawake Condors, where he is logging big minutes both 5-on-5 and on special teams.
“We’ve been using him a lot; sometimes even too much,” said Bosch. “We use him on the power play and also the PK. For a rookie, he has got a lot of ice time. He keeps improving his game so he will keep getting ice time.”
However, Bosch is also quick to point out that Neeposh’s role is not just about offence and special teams, but that Neeposh must also improve his overall game to get to the next level.
“People need to recognize him as an all-round defenceman,” said Bosch. “People know him as an offensive defenceman, but he needs to make a name for himself as an overall defenceman. Any D-man who can carry the puck like he does and skate like he does will take some risks at some point. I think it is part of his style.
“Coaches who have a kid like this will let him go offensively, but he needs to be more reliable on defence to crack a QMJHL lineup.”
So, is there a chance that Neeposh may be called up to Chicoutimi some time this season? “You gotta ask Chicoutimi,” said Bosch. “But if they call me, I will tell them that Silas is a kid who is very, very passionate about hockey.”
While Neeposh looks forward to having another shot at the QMJHL, he is firmly grounded in what he is doing today and remains focused on school and hockey. “I am just trying to finish high school right now,” said Neeposh. “I’ll see what happens after this season, if I stay here or if I go to college or university. I’m just leaving everything open for next year.”
Then he added, “Being here is pretty far (from home). But it’s something I want to do and a sacrifice I want to take to make it far. My parents give me full support, and my grandparents and family too. My parents have worked so hard for me. I don’t know how to thank them. My dad is a real role model for me.”
Bosch is not surprised to hear how Neeposh talk about his family and his goals, and is impressed by how well he has kept his recent successes in perspective.
“Silas should be looked at as a role model for a lot of kids,” Bosch pointed out. “Not a lot of kids move away from home and make all the sacrifices he has made. He’s really concentrated on hockey; he loves the game so much. He has a lot of my respect for leaving home at such a young age to play hockey.
“There are a lot of distractions in Montreal for an 18-year-old. And you usually have to look after these kids a lot. That’s not the case for Silas. It would be easy for him to leave the track like a lot of 18-year-olds would do. But he’s so serious that we trust him,” said Bosch.
“He is on the right track right now.”
And where would Neeposh like that track to lead? “Pro hockey,” he said, without hesitation. “I am not saying I’ll be there, but I definitely want to be there.”