When Brismoh Mansaray was five years old, he asked his dad a simple question.
“I was watching hockey with my dad when I asked him if I could play hockey, and he said sure,” recalls the Edmonton native, now 12.
Brismoh’s parents did what many do and first enrolled him — along with his sister — in skating lessons.
“We wanted him to just skate as a recreational activity,” recalls Brismoh’s mom, Iyesatu Jalloh. “But when he was skating, the coaches recommended registering him for hockey and told us how to do it.
Iyesatu says while she knew her son wanted to play hockey, she had her reservations and was hesitant to sign him up in a league.
“At one point, I tried to convince him to play soccer instead of hockey because it was too cold,” she says. “But then he cried the whole time he was at daycare, so the daycare teacher told me, ‘Please just let this boy play hockey.’”
Brismoh's father suggested playing hockey might be beneficial for their son in more ways than one.
"His dad said, 'Let's just try it and maybe he will like it and maybe it will help him focus and he will not be on electronics all the time,' and I said OK," recalls Iyesatu.
So, in 2016, Brismoh was enrolled in Timbits U7 hockey. A year later, he joined the house league program with the KC Hockey Club, run by the Knights of Columbus Athletic Club in Edmonton, where he started out as a defenceman before becoming a forward.
“I was always rushing a lot,” says Brismoh, who is a big Edmonton Oilers fan and dreams of making it to the NHL someday.
Today, the right-winger is in his first full season of rep hockey as a member of the KC U13 AA Lancers.
“The best thing about playing hockey is that it is fun, and it gives me a hobby that I always want to do. I meet and make new friends every season,” Brismoh says.
Brismoh currently sits third on the team in scoring with 26 points and tied for third with 10 goals on the season. He is also excelling in school, much to the delight of his mother.
"He's doing good in hockey and he's doing good in school. His grades are in the 90s and he is doing good at home,” says Iyesatu.
With all the games, practices and high expectations that come with playing hockey, especially as a member of a rep team, Brismoh says it has all helped him stay focused not just on the ice, but off it too.
“Hockey has taught me how to focus on certain areas,” he says. “I don’t have a lot of time for anything else because of after hockey practice I have to study and then go to bed.”
A helping hand
Brismoh was born in Edmonton, but his parents immigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago from Sierra Leone, where hockey, particularly the frozen kind, is virtually non-existent.
“We don’t do hockey back home,” says Iyesatu. “Sierra Leone, it’s mostly just soccer, track and field, basketball … because it’s like always 30 degrees and above.”
Though they had watched hockey before, they weren't completely familiar with everything that accompanies playing the game such as the equipment that is needed, or even how to put it on.
“We didn’t even know how to put the gear on him. We had to go on YouTube to see how to dress him up. It was really hard,” recalls Iyesatu, later adding. “The parents had to teach me how to tie his skates.”
To help Brismoh continue to make strides in the game, his family has turned to programs such as Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund, which provides $500 subsidies to help parents cover registration fees.
"The Assist Fund was really good for me because this year with AA, it was really expensive. I was really worried ... so when I got [help from] the Assist Fund, I was so happy," says Iyesatu.
Despite her initial hesitation towards her son playing hockey, Iyesatu says she is very proud of Brismoh’s success on and off the ice and is thrilled to see him playing the game he loves.
“I am so happy,” she says.