Dwight Ballantyne is heading up the new hockey program at The Bird’s Nest. (Facebook)

Maple Ridge’s Bird’s Nest adds a hockey focus

Cliff Ronning involved in program for aboriginal youth

The Bird’s Nest is adding hockey players as a focus among the aboriginal youth the Maple Ridge group is focused on helping.

Andy Bird, a local educator who is also a locally famous professional wrestler called The Dreadful Bird, as well as a motivational speaker, started the Bird’s Nest two years ago. The non-profit organization started by bringing kids to Maple Ridge from his home reserve at the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, to help them upgrade their academics, pursue college or vocational courses, and generally plan a future for themselves away from the small reserve.

His mother-in-law Denise Trottier explained that the Bird’s Nest has added a new college prep program aimed at aboriginal hockey players, and former Vancouver Canucks star centre Cliff Ronning is involved with his Base Hockey training facility.

“He jumped right on board, right away,” said Trottier, adding Ronning will also contributed to the new program with his many connections in the hockey world.

Dwight Ballantyne, will be the new director of physical training and hockey skills for the Bird’s Nest hockey program. He is also from the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, and was inspired by Bird.

“He’s the reason why I’m out here, because of a program I heard about on Facebook two years ago,” he said. “Hockey – that was my life out there. That’s the only thing that kept me going, and kept my hopes up to do something in life.”

He said there are a lot of native kids who loved the game like he did. Coming from a small community of some 2,300 people, Canada’s favourite pastime become a focus, and the talent comes through.

Ballantyne explained that at Montreal Lake they were on the ice all the time – and not just at the rink. When the arena wasn’t available, they could skate on the icy roads.

“If it wasn’t open, it would be so cold out the roads would be ice, so that’s what we would do – skate around the reserve, or skate on the lake,” he said.

Trottier said pursuing hockey helps young people focus on their goals, and they saw that with Ballantyne and how driven and purposeful he is about his own life.

“We figured that hockey was something to attract other natives to help them through their situation, the same way it helped me,” said Ballantyne.

He’s going to show them how.

“We’re going to be working out, we’re going to be playing hockey, we’re going to be working with Cliff Ronning,” he said.

“We want to show these guys that there’s more to life than where they come from. School, hockey and essential life skills… is what it’s all about.”

He said some of the incoming players have played junior hockey already, and are from different reserves than Montreal Lake, and he will get to know them.

After two years of involvement with the Bird’s Nest, the 23-year-old Ballantyne said he’s on track.

“I feel like my life is going the way I’ve planned it, the way I want it to go, so now I’m happy,” he said, adding that his new focus is the hockey program.

So far, they have five players involved. Ballantyne said he would like to eventually be able to form a Bird’s Nest team, who train and practice together, and compete at Native hockey events.

“We’re going to be playing tournaments in native hockey around B.C.”

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