LIVONIA, MI—Samuel Assinewai’s hockey career is going south. No, it’s not ‘going south’ in the sense that it’s failing—in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as the 14-year-old Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) resident and his family have just moved to the United States so he can play on a competitive hockey team.
“They call me the Canadian kid,” says Samuel. He has undertaken a big move, trading the trees and lakes of Manitoulin Island for the skyscrapers and rivers of the Detroit metropolitan area for a shot at the ‘big time.’
“It’s very exciting to be down here. It’s a great hockey team with great coaches. This is an awesome opportunity not just for Samuel but for our whole family,” says Samuel’s father Shaun Assinewai. “We came down for a skate in the spring and he ended up making the hockey team, so we decided to move down here.”
Samuel, his eight-year-old sister and parents are now living in Livonia, Michigan, a Detroit suburb located about 25 minutes from the Windsor border.
“Through the years we’ve sacrificed a lot to get where Samuel is,” says his mother, Lauren Abotossaway. “He works really hard and it’s nice to see that he’s been provided with opportunities that keep him going.”
This latest opportunity was the chance to play for the Compuware 2004 AAA Major Bantam 14U hockey team in the US-based High Performance Hockey League (HPHL). Samuel, number 29, plays as a centre and winger.
“It’s a lot different. It’s way harder than home, and faster,” says Samuel. “I’m doing alright, but I could probably do better a bit. I’m not getting as many goals as last year because of the difference.”
The HPHL is made up of six teams with three each from the Detroit and Chicago areas. During the season, the teams play each other four times. Compuware 2004 has recently ranked as high as second in the league.
Samuel was most recently playing for the Nickel City Minor Bantam AAA Sons team in Sudbury. The game and practice schedule involved frequent trips in to Sudbury, introducing the family to life on the road which many sports families know well.
During the week, Ms. Abotossaway attends school in Windsor, studying community and justice services. Samuel says the transition to the new curriculum at his school has been a challenge but one which he is embracing. He says his origin story has invited some curious reactions from his classmates and teammates.
“Lots of people are surprised that I came from Canada to the US to play hockey,” laughs Shaun, referencing how hockey is a sport that’s closely associated with Canada.
Mr. Assinewai says American teams begin looking for players in early 2019 for the following season.
“The same goes for Ontario. We’ll likely stay down south next season, whether here or in Ontario,” he says.
The pace at Compuware 2004 is fast. The team hits the ice on average three times per week and is away at tournaments or games most weekends. The team generally plays in Chicago, Detroit and occasionally Toronto.
“We’ve had one weekend off since September when we did come home to visit,” says Mr. Assinewai. “This past weekend we were in Chicago and we’re heading to Mississauga on November 17 for a border battle weekend.”
Next year will be Samuel’s draft year. That’s the year where he will possibly be scouted to play on a higher-level team.
“They’re already looking at boys this age,” says Mr. Assinewai. He adds that Samuel’s team is currently ranked third in the country, giving him high hopes that his son’s future will be bright.
“More than likely they’ll be at the nationals the way they’re going,” he says. This season’s playoff tournament will likely be in Pittsburgh in mid-March.
Ms. Abotossaway says her son is making the family proud and they are happy to stand with him as he pursues his dreams.
“Samuel is really being challenged. It’s good for him; he’s striving to achieve more and more towards his goal of making the NHL. As parents, it makes us happy. It’s sad leaving home but that’s hockey life,” she says.
One of the goodbyes the family had to say was to the Nickel City Minor Bantam AAA Sons team. Ms. Abotossaway says she keeps in touch with the parents to hear about the news on Samuel’s old team, and Samuel says he still chats with his old friends and teammates regularly.
“I’ve been playing Xbox with them. Mainly Fortnite and NHL,” says Samuel. “Yeah, I do miss Manitoulin, the peace and quiet, the hunting.”
Despite the major change in relocating to Detroit, Ms. Abotossaway says her family is eager to see what the future will bring.
“We’re always looking for the next adventure to keep going and for our family to have fun,” she says.