Talk is cheap for former NHLer Brantt Myhres.
What matters most for Myhres are the actions of the people who have made it through hard times and turned their life around.
The retired pro hockey player is now President and CEO of Greater Strides Hockey Academy. Taking positive action is at the core of the Greater Strides mission, which is all about assisting Aboriginal student athletes to flourish, develop their skills and become leaders while remaining grounded in their cultures and developing life skills.
“[The program] consists of a hockey academy, skill classes, some team bonding, some cultural grounding,” explains Brantt.
Greater Strides has held two hockey camps – one in Spruce Grove, Alta. in July and another in Prince George, B.C. in August. But these kids – who range in age from Atoms to Midgets – learn more than passing, and shooting. They learn about their culture and they learn life skills. Hockey becomes a conduit for teachings on how to be a confident Aboriginal person.
Brantt is in a unique position to share with the hockey academy’s youth participants. Of First Nations decent himself—his grandmother was a member of the Frog Lake First Nation—Brantt grew up in Cold Lake, Alta. before finding himself on a hockey journey with stops in Portland, Ore. playing for the Winterhawks Major Junior team in the Western Hockey League before spending a decade playing in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames.
As a role model and visionary, Brantt´s passion is providing practical support and equipping young aspiring Aboriginal student athletes with the necessary skills to achieve their dreams.
Brantt also leverages other Aboriginal and hockey leaders through his hockey academy.
Dr. Reg Crowshoe, an Elder with the Piikani Nation in Southern Alberta, offers a unique cultural perspective for youths attending the hockey camps.
“As a group, they can identify with each other, they know we have our own language and distinct culture and those belief systems are a part of the hockey school,” explained Reg. “Some of these kids are at a point where in their mind they need to make decisions of where they want to be and what they want to do. They have challenges - today’s youth have big challenges - not only at school [and] at home, but also in their communities.”
“[The program] really gives you a sense of, that there’s another way of going,” said aspiring hockey star and camp participant Chandler Knibb. “I really want to go to college … so I have an education to fall back on, and get a good job. And that gives me a sense of stability to know that I’m trying my best and no one can put me down for that.”
Meagan Bigsnake is an instructor at the academy. Having attended college in the United States, she’s a bright-eyed, articulate role model for young female Aboriginals.
“It was a challenge getting off the reserve, and being the first female aboriginal from my community to do that,” said Meagan. “And to leave and get my bachelor’s degree and play NCAA hockey, I’m pretty sure that I pathed the way for some of the kids.”
It’s apparent from the feedback she receives from youth through social media that her lessons for them are being understood. Program participants contact her through Facebook to ask questions about school and hockey, and about her experiences playing in the U.S.
“For me that was what came first, school, and then hockey,” Meagan stated.
Dallas Stars forward Vernon Fiddler also lends his time and talents to the program, joining George Laraque, Sheldon Souray and Mike Green as its high-profile NHL player-supporters.
“Hockey taught me a lot of life lessons,” said Vernon. He lists those lessons as being “committed to your team, never quitting, showing up to not only represent yourself, but what’s on your jersey, and that’s your team name.”
The program’s ultimate goal is to create leaders, to equip the participants with the skills they’ll need to grow and benefit from life’s experiences. Academy officials hope the program will equip these youths to return to their communities and create lasting, positive impacts on other young people.
“The old people always said our young people are going to leave, and when they come back, we’re going to live a lot better in our communities,” said Reg, the Elder. “And I still hold onto that dream.”
Enbridge Northern Gateway is proud to support the Greater Strides Hockey Academy