When I conversed over the telephone last week with defenceman Isaac Bellan, who plays with the Transcona Railer Express of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, it became self evident ever since he was five or six years old that he, like so many other young Canadian kids, loved our game with a passion and hoped that he too might one day, at some level, become an integral part of it.

I asked the 20-year-old skater, who is presently in his third year at the University of Winnipeg studying Criminal Justice, to outline for me where his sporting journey began and what were his most memorable events along the way.
“When I was four to five years old I started skating and my first real memory of playing organized hockey is in Tuxedo,” he began.” I played from ages 8-10 at (level) A when I was with the River Heights Cardinals, Sir John Franklin, and in Tuxedo.
From 11-13 I played for the Assiniboia Park Rangers at AA. I remember that as being pretty awesome since we won three championships.”
Frustration set in for Bellan  the following year when he decided to try out for the AAA team; that was the first time he had ever been cut. He conceded that when a player moves up, the competition becomes much stiffer. “I went back to the Rangers where I was captain of the team and, following that, I tried out with the Monarchs and finally made AAA. That team won the championship and we won the Provincials too.
“I went to Kelvin High School for the hockey season in Grade 12 for just six months where I played on the team and actually returned to Grant Park from where I graduated after having been there from Grades 7-11.”
After high school Isaac  thought that he might then hit the road and give it a try with the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Leaving home and playing in another province didn’t turn out to be a comfortable fit for him and it quickly lost its appeal. Leagues like the SJHL are somewhat similar to minor pro leagues where there is a lot of bus travel, the young players out of province can be billeted out and there are far more practices.
“My mindset wasn’t right. By the time I got there I was ready to come home. I misread what everything would be pretty much. You’re right, there absolutely was a home sickness.”
 The advantages of the MMJHL are that it purposely schedules most of its games on week-ends and there are fewer practices because it wants to be more accommodating for players who are focused on their secondary and post-secondary educations. Bellan concurred that living with his family at home while going to university in Winnipeg was also somewhat of a factor in his returning home. Hey, family, friends and home cooking are significant considerations too, don’t you think?
And how is Isaac faring thus far in his third and final season in the league? Well, what caught my eye immediately when I perused the team’s stats was that the 5’ 10” and 173 pound Bellan is Transcona’s second-leading scorer with six goals and 16 assists in just 18 games as of December 3rd. In addition he is also the ten-team league’s top scoring defenceman and 11th overall in the league in total points.
When I suggested to Bellan that it is somewhat of an oddity for someone back on defence to be such a prolific scorer, he responded matter-of-factly: “Yes, and no. You look up and down in (any league) traditionally it’s not usual for defencemen to bring offence to the table, with the exception, say, of Ottawa’s Erik Kaarlson and Montreal’s P.J. Subban in the NHL. It’s something to my game that I worked on as I was growing up.”
With a total of only eight minutes in penalties I wondered if Bellan has ever bopped a few incoming skaters from time to time. He candidly explained: “ It’s definitely not my number one priority to be laying guys out, although I try to once in a while. I’m not one of the bigger guys in the league. If you look at my weight and height I’m not going to hit a guy who is 200 lbs. It’s not going to work too well. I use my speed, which I work on a lot in the summer and my stick too. When you’re going at a higher speed, it definitely makes the game a lot easier.”
As for the dreaded injury factor throughout his many years, he’s had a few. “When I was 12 years old I broke my ankle. At 15 I broke my collarbone. It’s something you don’t think about when you’re playing. It’s just a couple of bad months out of 15 years playing. Hockey is a rough, tough game. That goes back to the physical aspect of the game you asked me about. I definitely don’t shy away from the contact but I don’t go looking for it.”
Isaac, who lives with his parents, dad Murray and mom Robyn Zimberg along with brother Josh, 18, who attends the U of M, also explained that his playing out in Transcona wasn’t so unusual. “It’s getting common now for most guys to play out of their areas. There’s trades and players being released.
“The first year Transcona was in the league, I wasn’t interested in playing there at all. They struggled pretty good. I think they only won one game or maybe two. In my first year with them, we made some small steps and last year we made the playoffs. This year we’re having our ups and downs (9-9-1) but we’re definitely on the right path now. We’ve added some new guys. If you look at the standings, all the teams are pretty close now.”
Isaac is finally gaining some of the recognition he never got to enjoy earlier in his playing days, and fully appreciates it now. “I think it was a cool thing that in the 2014-15 season I was voted ‘Defenceman of the Year’ in the (entire) league and received the George Cadzow trophy. I was also Team MVP the last two years too. It’s something I’m pretty proud of because I never really expected it. Even team awards as a kid I never got any.”
I inquired of Isaac whether he is related to a Michael Bellan because I have a souvenir leaflet with his name on it from October 7th, 2007, when the Israeli Ice Hockey Federation brought a team to our city to play the Winnipeg All Stars made up of young Jewish kids at the St. James Civic Centre.
Oh, he’s my brother!” he said. “I wanted to play in that game too, said Isaac. There were guys older than me on the team. It would have been so cool. Michael is 25 years old now and he is in London for law school.”
For the record, I believe the locals won the game 6-4 and it was quite an entertaining evening. There was a large crowd too, made up primarily of Jewish fans. And for a trip down memory lane, you’ll recognize many names who were also on the team: Daniel Asper, Daniel Fainman, Justin Gertenstein, Harlan Gurvey, Jonnie Katz, Matthew Katz, Matthew Lercher, Adam Nemy, Daniel Oman, Ethan Pollock, Jesse Pollock, Lewis Promislow, Daniel Sapirstein, Sam Thompson, and Jordan Vine. The coaches were Eric Winograd, Aron Grusko, and Joel Shuster and the referees, Michael Guberman and Steven Promislow.
The writer, a Jewish Winnipegger, is a former school teacher, and covers football and hockey for Canadian Press and Broadcast News.
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