Hometown Tournament – 2018 World Cup – Alexandr Samedov – MF

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is half over. 32 teams has been reduced to 16 and it has been a very exciting process to reach this point. Of course my native Canada is not involved. This is not a huge surprise – they have only appeared in the World Cup one time in the 21 tournaments – 1986 in Mexico where in 3 games, they were outscored 5-0. A little more surprising this time around is that USA, my country-in-law, is also not present at the tournament, failing to qualify for the first time in the past 8 World Cups. So that, of course has left me looking for who to cheer on. The games have been quite entertaining to watch, but I haven’t landed on a team that I really am pulling for. So instead, I will simply share some stories over the next few days of players in the tournament that are outspoken about their faith in Jesus. I will start with this great story from the host nation and their 33 year old midfielder Alexandr Samedov.

Alexandr Samedov goes for a ball in the tournament opener against Saudi Arabia.

What makes his story really stand out to me, and I will dig into it in a little bit, is the fact that Russia has strong guidelines limiting evangelism in general, and at these games in specific. But the Russian church has found a way to use this tournament to share God’s love with others. As you can read in this Christianity Today article, many churches are hosting viewing parties, inviting the public to come in and watch the game in their church buildings. According to the article, the guidelines say “There won’t be scores of Christians flying in to partner in proselytization efforts, either. For several years, the government, with its ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, has shut down foreign missions groups, stopped issuing visas for missions workers, and threatened to deport visitors who violate the restrictions.” And so while the population is not able to share their faith with others outside of the registered church buildings, one of the Russian players is sharing his journey of faith with American magazines. Meet Alexandr Samedov.

Samedov’s story of faith is featured in a recent Sports Spectrum magazine

Growing up in Moscow, the son of an Azerbaijani Muslim father and a Russian Orthodox mother, Samedov didn’t really connect with either faith. He says “My father always told me that I was a Muslim. My mom didn’t agree with that.  I didn’t really go in either direction. I lived my life in my own way.” However, when life brought hard things and challenges to him, Samedov didn’t have a natural place to turn. He says “I had already reached the age to be thinking about those things. And then I met my current wife, Yulia. She was a believer; she went to church. Seeing my problems, she simply said to me, ‘Sasha, such and such…’ I came to church once, twice, and I understood.  My life began to change.

Up to that point, Samedov’s life was focused on soccer. He was not interested in academics or reading in general. But one of the ways that his life began to change was his interest in reading. In this Sports Spectrum article, He says “‘I didn’t read much at all. I hardly had any free time. Because I went to a sports school, it didn’t really work out for me to combine academics and sports. I paid more attention to sports, and reading wasn’t the most important thing for me.’ But reading the Bible has been different…“I don’t look at reading the Bible like reading other books, because the Bible is something spiritual; it’s about faith,” he says. “The Bible teaches us. It provides direction for our lives.”

Here are my takeaways from Samedov’s story

Samedov, at 33, is likely playing in his last World Cup, and is excited to have it in his native country.

1- Unashamed – I admit that I don’t know Russia’s laws about evangelism and proselytizing, but I do know, based on the article I read about the World Cup, that there are strict limits to what is permitted. Yet, Samedov shared his story openly with Sports Spectrum Magazine. He has seen a great life change since he chose a life of faith in Christ, and is interested in sharing these life changes with others. I am challenged by this. Most of my life has been lived in Canada and the USA where despite the changing culture, it is still relatively safe to share your faith story with others regardless of the setting. Sure there are some places where it is more frowned upon than others, but the risk of arrest or more serious consequence is pretty small. However, if this should change, or regardless of our circumstance, am I ready to share the importance Jesus plays in my life with others around me? Am I ready to follow 1 Peter 3.15 “Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope” We do have this hope to share – let’s not hold back.

2- He is the Solution – We are problem solvers by nature. We don’t like to rely on others or admit that we need help. However, the reality of our existence is that we ARE in great need and cannot solve this problem on our own. Samedov ran into some troubles in his life that led him on a search for answers. His future wife brought him to church where, when giving Jesus a chance, he found many of the answers he was searching for. And it changed his life. The fact that this happens is the reason for the hope that we were talking about above. Other people around us are looking for answers and we have the resource to the answers they are looking for living in us. Let’s be bold and helpful, sharing our stories and helping others meet the one that can really answer their questions, meet their needs and change their life.

Conference Finals Throwback pt 4 – Tyler Wong – Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas Golden Knights forward Tyler Wong played in their first ever preseason game and scored their first ever franchise goal.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. How on earth can I write a throwback post about a player on a team that has existed for less than 1 year.  It is a valid question, and there are no little tricks that I could use, like talking about a player who played for a team that used to be in Las Vegas, like I could have done with Winnipeg. (Unless I wanted to dig into the minor leagues and the Las Vegas Thunder). Maybe that could have worked, but I chose a different route. In some ways, this throwback article goes back the farthest of any of these posts – all the way back to the franchise’s first ever goal – in its first preseason game – a goal scored by undrafted 22-year old rookie Tyler Wong. Maybe you remember the name and the game. Vegas beat the Vancouver Canucks 9-4, and Wong scored three of those goals.  In case you missed it, here is Vegas Golden Knights first ever hat-trick.

Wong played the majority of the 2018-19 season with the Chicago Wolves.

Wong didn’t make the NHL team despite this great first game. He split his season between the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL, scoring a combined 4 goals and 9 points in 60 games. But as you can read in this article from thesinbin.com, Wong grew up in a Christian home, but when he left home to play Major Junior Hockey, he struggled to stay devoted to God. The article says “During this time in his life, he felt it difficult to pursue his faith on his own without any other open believers on the team. Noting it was a tough year where he made some mistakes, Wong fell away from his upbringing that season. But come next season, he was determined to mature a bit, and set back on the path he knew he wanted to be on”. He connected with the team chaplain for the Calgary Flames and Stampeders, Jack Knight, who also worked in the same role for several area junior teams.  “Meeting a couple of times a month over coffee in Lethbridge, Wong’s time with Knight was a turning point in his life where he truly committed himself to God. He credits Knight as being the biggest influence in his hockey career.”

Wong was captain of the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey League. He helped grow a chapel group there and vows to do the same anywhere his career takes him.

Knight and Wong built a regular chapel service for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Wong saw the number of attendees grow. He plans to continue to build chapel services in wherever his career takes him. He says “It was awesome to see that grow, and to know that (whether) I’m here or wherever, I’ll be able to have that impact to making (chapel) more prominent, where guys aren’t forced to go, but also for guys who are interested they’re able to just go and have no fear of other guys looking down on them,

Wong also wants to extend his influence beyond his teammates. He is very active on Twitter, often sharing a Bible verse or ministry focus in his tweets.  He says “To think hockey is your life, to think hockey is everything, and be able to keep that perspective that we’re blessed to be where we are, we’re blessed to have the abilities, the opportunities to have gotten to where we are today and to just be here right now is an amazing blessing given to us by God. So I think that it’s important for me to be able to use my social media for more than watching funny videos, so I think it’s a good platform for me to use.

Here are my takeaways from Wong’s story:

1- Leaving a Legacy – Last time out, I wrote about Ryan Walter and all the people that he has influenced in his career and in life after hockey. And he came to faith in God due to the influence of teammate Jean Provnovost, who in turn came to faith from the influence of teammate Ed Kea. Wong knew that it was important that he make his faith in God a priority and from that place, grew a chapel group with his Junior team. Wong talked about how he knows that wherever he goes, he wants to help chapel groups and Bible studies grow. This makes me do a quick inventory for myself. What are some ways that I can create opportunities for people around me (neighbors, co-workers, family and friends) to encounter the God who created them, loves them and offers to save them from the penalty that their sins have earned them. It is amazing to think that God could use me to influence many, MANY lives for God’s kingdom. I’m in!

Wong was awarded WHL Humanitarian of the Year 2 years in a row in recognition of his service in the community.

2- Reaching your Community –  Tyler Wong won the  Western Hockey League Humanitarian of the Year award 2 years in a row. I watched a tribute video that Lethbridge Hurricanes put together for Wong, at the end of his career with them. Among the highlights and pictures of Wong we see him and his teammates participating in many community events. There were food drives, hospital visits, and other events that connected with the fans in the area. This continues my first takeaway as well. Our influence can extend beyond the people we are directly in contact with in our daily lives. We can always be on the lookout for ways to serve others. Maybe it is volunteering at a food shelf, or cleaning up, or visiting shut-ins in hospitals or nursing homes.  There are prison outreaches, and loads of volunteer opportunities. The challenge that I take away from this is to be aware and on the lookout for opportunities to serve other people, formally or informally, and then take action. God calls us to follow the example of servitude that Jesus modeled for us. Will you join me?

Conference Finals Throwbacks pt 3 – Influence – Ryan Walter – Washington Capitals

Former Washington Capitals Captain Ryan Walter

Ryan Walter is a leader. He has been in a leadership role for most of his life. At 22, he was named captain of the Washington Capitals – making him the youngest captain in the league at that point and one of the youngest in history, still to this day. He also worked as a coach, broadcaster and now can be found on the motivational speaker circuit with his talks focussed on leadership.

And sometimes, when asked to be a leader, there are some unexpected consequences. As you can read in this article from Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, that Walter was asked to “keep an eye” on veteran teammate Jean Provnovost, whose Christian views were seen as potentially divisive for the team. Walter, in keeping an eye on him, got to know Provnovost and found himself influenced by his veteran teammate both on and off the ice. Walter began attending Bible studies and eventually became a Christian.  He shares part of how this all came to connect for him in this video from Hockey Ministries International.

Walter coached the Canadian National Women’s team to a gold medal in the 2010 Four Nations Cup

Walter would go one to play over 1000 games in the NHL and amassed over 600 points in his career. He won a Stanley Cup ring with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. He has won medals as a hockey coach, authored books, started businesses, worked as president of a hockey team and even created a board game. He has also participated with Hockey Ministries International, reaching out to the next generation of hockey players looking to influence their game and their life. As you can read in this article from Leader Impact, Walter is able to effectively communicate about both leadership and faith. He continues to be an influencer, to the people God leads him to connect with.

Here are my takeaways from Walter’s story

These days, Ryan Walter speaks to audiences about faith and leadership.

1- Do you know? –  It was after a scary moment on a team flight that Walter was willing to consider what life was truly about and be challenged about what happens at the end of one’s days here. I really like how he framed the way that people in North American Society can frame the concept of heaven and hell. If I do enough good and don’t mess up too much to counterbalance that, I’ll make it, but if I blow it, I’m doomed. I’m really glad that this is NOT the way God worked it out. Because that thought will only lead to one of two possibilities. We are either delusional and blind to the fact that we can never do enough good to offset our bad, or we are experts in lying to ourselves, thinking that we can sell our version of the truth enough to get to heaven. But God didn’t work things out that way. Instead, He knew that we could never make it on our own. Our performance and list of good deeds fall short because “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). But the truth is that God made a way for us to be rescued from all the bad things that we have done. He has made a way to deal with our sin, satisfying his judgement for our sins, while still demonstrating grace and mercy to free us from the penalty which was paid instead by Jesus. So, friends, let me ask you. Your plane is going down. Do you know where you will spend eternity? You can know! Christ has made a way for you to have all the mistakes, poor judgements and selfishness to be forgiven. Choose to make Him the most important part of your life!

Walter is also the author of several books again sharing about faith, and leadership

2- Influence – Walter was asked to keep an eye on his new teammate so that his Christian faith wouldn’t become an issue for the team. When Walter watched Provnovost, he saw nothing negative in how faith guided his life. Instead, he saw someone worth getting to know and even emulate. This relationship would play a role in Walter becoming a Christian himself and setting him up to lead others to choose Christ, too. My challenge from this is to ask myself, if someone is told to keep an eye on me, will they see the same things in my life that draw them to want to know God? My daily prayer is that I would be a good reflection of Christ’s character, a good ambassador that shows the difference He can make in their life and a good source of His unconditional love. Lets strive to be people of influence to the world around us. The church we’ve been attending has as a mission statement this phrase that sums up what I hope to spend my life doing. “Moving toward God and bringing others with us.”

Conference Finals Throwback pt 2 – Show Up, Get Up, Gang Up – Adam Burt – Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets

Former Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Adam Burt

Finding a historical player to write about as a throwback for the Winnipeg Jets turned out to be a little trickier than I thought it would be. You see, I knew of some players who played in the 80’s and 90’s with the Winnipeg Jets – great stories that I really want to share on these pages – but that incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and became the Coyotes. So do I write a throwback post from someone who played for a completely different franchise? I could have – and I’m sure none of you would have really complained, but in an effort to pay tribute to the new Jets franchise, I decided to pick someone who never played a home game in Winnipeg. I chose to share the story of former Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) defenseman Adam Burt.

Burt was a second round draft pick by the Hartford Whalers in the 1987 draft. He played with with the Whalers for 10 seasons and then moved with the team to Carolina where he played 2 more years for the franchise as a Hurricane. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1999 and spent the rest of that season plus one more in Philly. He signed as a free agent with the Thrashers for the 2000-01 season which would be his last season in the NHL. He battled a couple of injuries and only played 27 games for Atlanta.

He only played in 27 games with the franchise, but Burt used his time in Atlanta to help lead team Bible studies.

But overall, he played in more than 700 NHL games amassing 152 points and over 950 penalty minutes. He was known as a tough player, willing to play a rough game and even fight. In this blog post, he says “I found a website that catalogs hockey fights. Apparently, I’ve had 92 FIGHTS! Before you go thinking I was tough, the website also said I only won 7!!“.  Burt is now a pastor at Every Nation Church in New Jersey. Even though he finished his hockey career before the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, he was destined to be a part of the Jets. He serves as the official team chaplain for the NFL’s New York Jets. He is passionate about his faith in God which he came to as a youth after his mother, recently divorced from Burt’s father, started attending church. He says “And she heard the Gospel of Jesus and He saved her. Now of course she wanted the same for her children. So she invited us to church one night and I saw a real cheesy movie on the Rapture but when the alter call came I found myself going up and giving my life to Jesus. Jesus became a part of my life and not just some religious activity or exercise. I was about eleven when this happened and He has been with me ever since.”

And while he didn’t hide his faith from teammates, he really found his voice to lead others to Christ when he was with the Thrashers. He says “… later in my career when I got older and became the veteran on the team I found it easier to love on some of the younger players coming up. We had one guy, Darcy Hordichuck who was a tough guy throughout the league… We baptized Darcy in my bathtub in Atlanta when I was with the Atlanta Thrashers.  While I was in Atlanta I was also able to host a few Bible Studies at my house.

Burt (on right) didn’t often back down from a fight. Now, he encourages people to stand up for their beliefs and be willing to fight for what’s right.

His voice continues to be strong telling others about the difference Jesus can make in their life – as a pastor, a chaplain and a blogger. From the post I reference earlier, he talks about some of the fights he was in in his career and shares spiritual takeaways from them. He challenges his readers to “Show Up, Get Up and Gang Up“.

My takeaway echo the thoughts he shared.

1- Show up –  David was a young shepherd boy. He had the courage to stand before Goliath. He dropped the giant and inspired a nation. Stephen, the church’s first martyr had the courage to stand before an angry mob opposing the gospel and though he lost his life…God is searching for those that will take a stand for Him in the earth. 

How important is God to you? Are you willing to claim Him as the most important part of your life? What if that brings ridicule, danger or persecution. Are you still ready to show up for His purposes?

2- Get Up – There will be times in the Christian life when we fail, fall short or just get worked! How will you respond? Jesus, our example, and hero took deaths knockout blow on the cross. But because HE got up, we now have the power to get up to. When you sin, repent, and get back up and into the fight of faith. 

Philippians 4.13 says that “we can do ALL things in Christ who strengthens us “(emphasis mine) That means He is our strength. When things are hard, when we fail, when we are beaten up by life, He is our strength and with Him, we are not at our end. We can stand in His strength and keep fighting.

Burt now works as a pastor and volunteers as a New York Jets team chaplain.

3- Gang Up– You don’t need to FIGHT FAIR in the fight of faith!! If you are getting ‘worked’ in your spiritual life, losing to sin over and over again, GANG UP ON IT!! Call in some other believers to gang up on sin! Ask them to believe with you, to pray with you, and to encourage you. We are better together!

We are in this together. We lean on God for strength, and sometimes, God shows up in other people who love Him and are willing to join with us in the face of whatever we are struggling against. Share your hard things with others – do not hide. And be there to love and support others that are going through their own mess. That is what God calls us to.


Conference Finals Throwbacks – Daily Needs – BJ Crombeen – Tampa Bay Lightning

BJ Crombeen played with the Lightning for 2 seasons.

As promised, here comes the first of four “throwback” posts sharing stories of historical players from the four remaining NHL teams that are battling for the right to raise the Stanley Cup as the 2018 champs.

I figured that I better start with the Lightning as they are down 2-0 against the Washington Capitals in their series. And so this time around, the spotlight shines on Brendon (BJ) Crombeen who played 445 games in the NHL, 99 of them with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the course of 2 seasons.  He scored 4 goals and 18 points in his time in Florida and amassed just under 200 penalty minutes. He was drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 54th pick of the 2003 draft. He also played for the Arizona Coyotes and the St. Louis Blues. His father Mike, also played in the NHL, appearing in 475 games with the St Louis Blues, Cleveland Barons and Hartford Whalers.

Crombeen, diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 9, checks his blood sugar many times a day.

One thing that sets Crombeen apart from most professional athletes, is that he has type 1 diabetes.  He was diagnosed at age 9 and so he has developed good systems to manage it. His routine includes checking his blood sugar 15-20 time each day. It is an extra thing that he has to take responsibility to do but his mindset was that it was part of his daily habits. He said “He looks at it like this: Most guys have to wake up and grab their cell phones, keys, and wallets before they head out the door. “I just add my diabetes kit to that. That’s just part of my life and I don’t really think about it as a challenge or something that’s going to set me back.

Another important part of his life is his faith in God. He grew up in a Christian home – his dad was active in Hockey Ministries International(HMI) – but when he left home to pursue hockey, at the age of 16, his faith began to drift. As you can read in this article he wrote for HMI, it was in his second year of Junior Hockey that  he “started to realize that something was missing, and I needed faith in my life.” Crombeen’s biggest challenge was realizing that there was not much that he was in control of. He had surrender that desire to control to God and learn to trust Him. He said “once I realized that with a relationship with Jesus, you can trust that He has everything under control, and all you have to do is go out and put your best foot forward – whether it’s your plan or not… It’s a daily thing I have to remind myself of, even now, but going through challenges by yourself is a lot more difficult than going through them with the Lord and having faith that He has all of those things under control.”

Also, check out this article from the Player’s Tribune where BJ shares about his journey to the NHL. He says “I looked at my skill set and thought my best chance was to show a willingness to fight and stand up for teammates — so that’s what I did.” He also shares about being ready for life after hockey and gives advice to aspiring hockey players on how to transition out of the game when that time comes.

B.J. Crombeen played 445 games in the NHL with 4 teams

BJ’s dad Mike played in 475 NHL games with 3 teams. He was active in Hockey Ministries International

My takeaways from Crombeen’s story.

1- Daily Needs – I work in the school system and some of the kids in my program are diabetic. Over the 3 years that I have been working in my current after school program, I’ve had to learn the ins and out of analyzing blood sugar reading and helping the students in my care take their blood sugar reading and get the insulin they need. So that part of Crombeens story connected with me. However, what caught my attention was when he talked about how people need their wallets, keys, phone etc. to head into their day, and for him, it was the same except he also needed to take his diabetes kit. As Christians, we go through the day like everyone else, too. We have the things that we need for the day. But like Crombeen needs to have his diabetes kit with him to keep him safe and healthy, as a Christian, I need to be intentional to invite God into my day for my spiritual health. I need that time to connect with God, and ask Him to guide me through the day. Sometimes I can get in such a hurry that I leave something behind, a wallet, my work keys, – I even drove to work one day without wearing my glasses, which I need to legally drive. Like his diabetes kit, I need to remember that I need God to face each day. I need to make sure He is part of my routine.

2- The Battle for Control – BJ talked about how he realized that much of life was out of his control and that trusting Jesus is the only plan that won’t fail. He then wrote about his plan to prepare for life after hockey. Is this a contradiction? I don’t think it is. When we realize that so much of life is out of our control, it is important that we learn to trust God and his plan for us. However, If God leads us to take action as Crombeen did, to prepare for what may come next, well, that is a responsibility we should take. I think that God will lead us to many opportunities and experiences and while not all of them will be used the way WE think they might be, we can aim to be prepared for whatever may come our way.