Hockey academy for First Nations youth in the works
Brantt Myhres knows the problems that plague First Nations youth across Alberta.
He lived with them.
He battled them.
He survived them.
Now he's trying to help the next generation of aboriginal students endure them as well.
The former NHL player is in the process of starting up Greater Strides Hockey Academy in Calgary — a school for First Nation students that has a strong hockey component.
"Ultimately, our slogan is building tomorrow's leaders today, and that's what we have always focused on," said Myhres, who owns a diploma in substance abuse behavioral health from Mount Royal University. "We want to give these kids an opportunity to get the skills in academics and hockey."
Myhres, 37, believes that children who focus their energy on sports and academics have a greater chance of success.
"Whatever that may be in," he said. "It might not be hockey. They could be a welder, they could be an electrician, they could be anything.
"It's about building leaders and then going back into the communities and making a difference in the communities."
Growing up in Cold Lake, with a Metis grandmother, Myhres lived with the problems that are currently destroying First Nations — drugs, gangs, and teen pregnancies to name a few.
"I played with a lot of native players, aboriginal players that were amazing players, amazing in talent but right around 14, 15 years old, you would say 'hey, where is so and so,'" Myhres said.
"I wouldn't know where he is and that's sort of the trend — they just start falling off the grid at 14, 15, and 16 years old.
Greater Strides wants to give them the chance to hone their skills in a healthy environment with a greater chance to succeed, he said.
Myhres' way out of the First Nations was becoming a player in the Western Hockey League and then the NHL.
But he'll be the first to admit, it wasn't because of his scoring ability. It was his 6-foot-4, 220 lb. frame, cement hands and his willingness to drop the gloves with anybody.
He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 1992, and bounced around the NHL, minor leagues and even Europe over the next 15 years.
In 154 NHL games, he scored six goals and racked up 687 penalty minutes.
It was during his time in the WHL when he developed a substance abuse problem, eventually earning a lifetime ban from the NHL for exactly that.
But he's clean now — coming up on four years, he said.
"No matter how far down you've gone, you can always find your way out of it," he said.
"Basically, what I went through with my struggles, I was a lucky to make it out of that so I have the opportunity to teach these kids that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and to keep working towards your dreams and never give up."
And that's what he's trying to do.
While Greater Strides is still in it's infancy from being the full on hockey academy — Myhres said that is about two years away — he and his partner Steve Parsons, another former NHLer, have started hockey conditioning camps and after school programs across a few First Nation communities in Alberta.
But Parsons knows it is going to be a tough road ahead for the pair to get Greater Strides Hockey Academy rolling.
"I would suggest that the biggest challenge for us at Greater Strides in the coming months is recruiting qualified and suitable staff," Parsons said, who has experience in running "The Parsons Project", another hockey academy in British Columbia. "It is important that (Greater Strides) staff is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, sensitive and qualified to work with these children, in their communities.
"Hockey is a passion for many Canadians, and Calgary is a mecca for hockey, so hopefully we will be able to recruit the best coaches and leaders available."
Ryan Robb, CEO of Treaty 7 Management Corporation and partner in
Greater Strides Hockey Academy, said while it's too early to declare the impact from Greater Strides, he's confident in saying it will make a difference.
"I've gone to watch some of their conditioning camps and I've gone to watch some of the after school programs," he said. "They are getting many of the same kids over and over.
"I know the parents are happy, I've seen some of the social media postings and they have only been positive."
For more information on Greater Strides, check out their website, greaterstrides.ca.
- By Bryce Forbes