Stanley Cup Finals – Joel Hanley – Dallas Stars

Welcome to the Stanley cup finals! 

NHL 2020 Stanley Cup Finals are here (finally)

Sadly, my beloved Bruins were excused from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, so I hopped over to the Vegas Bandwagon, hoping for a cup run for the Golden Knights, but they were dismissed by the Dallas Stars.. Those two teams now meet in the Stanley Cup finals, not quite what I hoped for, but I am so glad to have hockey back that I decided to find a point of interest and a team to root for. And I have found one!

A few years ago, I wrote a post about Jim Nill -the Dallas General Manager. His faith journey and his wife’s ongoing battle against cancer. Check it out here.  

Now, Nill has put together a Stanley Cup contender in Dallas hoping to raise the Cup for the first time in 21 years. For Nill, it would be his fifth time cup win (4 as a front office staffer with the Red Wings in the 90s and early 2000s). And while the current roster isn’t filled with star power (excuse the pun) the players that he has assembled have brought the cup within reach. 

One of those players, I admit, I had not heard of until he scored in game 1. Joel Hanley has played parts of 5 seasons in the NHL – 48 games total spread among 3 different teams and 8 more playoff games – 7 this season. He opened the scoring in game one with his first ever NHL goal, regular season or post season.

So, I looked into his story to see what I could learn about him. Undrafted out of UMASS, Hanley signed with the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2015.  In March 2016, he would get the call to the NHL – where he contributed 6 assists in 10 games. He got another taste with the Habs the next season before moving on to Arizona. He only played 5 NHL games for the Coyotes before signing with Dallas before last season. This year, he played 8 games early on this season for the Stars before being sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate – the Texas Stars. 

Joel Hanley after scoring his first NHL goal – in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals

Now, I’m sure you always remember your first NHL goal – what a moment to celebrate! But for Henley, there is something else that is never far from his mind. His brother Jordon. As you can read in this article from Sports Illustrated, Joel was close to his big brother – older by 4 years. In 2010, while Joel was a freshman at UMASS, he learned that Jordon had taken his own life. I can’t imagine the grief that losing a sibling would bring but I do know that grief doesn’t ever really go away. Another wave is often nearby.  I’m sure playing in the Stanley Cup final, and scoring a first NHL goal are highlights that you never forget, but I’m also sure that thoughts of his brother and the love of hockey that they shared were present. 

Another thing that these brothers shared was faith in God. These days, Joel spends time studying the Bible and living out his faith with “renewed vigor”.  He says “ I know there are going to be struggles in life and that things aren’t always going to go my way, but the one thing I do know is He is going to be there for me.”  

In reference to his brother, he continues saying “I do know that when Jordan was here, he was really good at articulating the Christian faith and what it’s all about, And he was really good at witnessing to people… We live in a fallen world and I know that Jordon’s passing wasn’t particularly God’s plan, but I know that He worked it out for the good and that Jordon touched a lot of people while he was here.”

A first career goal, a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and this off-season, he will get married. A lot to celebrate for Hanley– but I’m sure his brother is never far from his mind. I hope that his platform to share his story of reliance on God to sustain through grief and bring hope continues to grow. I’m excited for him to share his story far and wide! 

Joel Hanley, left and brother Jordan were teammates for one year as teenagers.

My takeaways:

1- Remembered – Grief is hard. We put on a brave face, and try to convince ourselves to “get over it”.  We think that dwelling on our sadness shows weakness and that we should “get on with the rest of our life”. But grief never really leaves. If you have ever known loss, then you know that whatever you lost remains close and sometimes another wave of grief comes out of nowhere. We don’t ever get over it, and we are not supposed to. Instead, the tragedy that brings grief into our life becomes part of our story. And as we trust that God will make “all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) we see Him at work, we sense Him close to us – grieving with us and reminding us that the hard things that come are not the end of the story. There is hope, Heaven awaits – a place where grieving will end and pain will stop.  

2- Live our story – Those we grieve are gone from us, and yet we remain. Why does it work that way? Why are some lives, experiences or relationships cut down early leaving us to deal with the loss? Well, because it is becoming part of our story, and as part of our story. It reminds us that we must trust that God sustains us in our grief and works in its midst. So if you are grieving the loss of someone or something, God will use that part of your story to help others who are grieving – so keep living out your story, even if it is changed by grief. You never know how God can use your story to help others.


Perseverance – Stanley Cup Playoffs – Matt Duchene and Brian Larson – Columbus Blue Jackets

It is the opening night of the 2019 NHL playoffs. Over the next 2 months, the 16 teams that qualified for post season play will leave everything they’ve got out on the ice in the quest for the Stanley Cup. There will be overtime, there will be body checks, big saves, pretty goals, ugly goals, banged up bodies.  It is incredible to think that from this point on, only one team will win their final game of the season.  When the dust settles, the other 15 teams will join the ranks of “maybe next year” while one team lifts the much sought trophy.

Blue Jackets picked up forward Matt Duchene at the Trade Deadline

It will take team work, effort, selflessness and our key word for the night… Perseverance.

We will look at a couple members of the Columbus Blue Jackets in our look at perseverance – they are not the only ones that battled against the odds to find their place, but their story shows how, with reliance on God, strength to persevere shows up in the face of hardship.

First, let’s look at Matt Duchene.  Drafted third overall in 2009 by Colorado, Duchene quickly became a star for the Avalanche scoring 55 points in 81 games and leading the league’s rookies in goals and points that year. He played for Colorado for 8 seasons before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators. At this season’s trade deadline, he was on the move again, this time to Columbus.

 A leg injury in his third season reminded Duchene to keep the focus on God.

In his third season with the Avalanche, however, he sustained a serious knee injury. As you can read in this story from Christian Sports Journal, that the injury kept him on the shelf for 7 weeks, missing 20 games. During that time, the team Chaplain reminded Duchene of a Bible passage that helped him in his rehabilitation. James 1.2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Here is Duchene sharing the story of his injury with Hockey Ministries International.

So what has Duchene learned about adversity? He says “It’s something I’ve always kept in mind as I’ve completed that transformation and realizing that (adversity) is part of God’s plan. Adversity makes you so much better and there’s always a reason for it…I’m always able to come through it.”

Larsen has been an assistant coach with Columbus since 2014

And now to Blue Jackets Assistant Coach Brad Larsen.

Larsen was a left winger, drafted in the 3rd round of the 1995 draft by the Ottawa Senators. He played just under 300 games in the NHL and almost 400 in the American Hockey League.  As you can read in this article from the Columbus Dispatch. Larsen became a Christian during his final season of professional hockey. A teammate invited him to chapel and he was in a time of searching for purpose and “gave it a shot”. Larsen says “The one thing about what God does is he humbles you, and he teaches you about appreciation and help and love and patience.”

During his playing days, Larsen was twice diagnosed with different forms of cancer. The second diagnosis was around the same time he accepted an invitation to his team’s chapel program.

One of the reasons that Larsen may have been searching for purpose in life is that 2 times during his playing days, he was diagnosed with different types of cancer. First it was melanoma on his back when he was 29, and then testicular cancer showed up when he was 31. He defeated cancer on both occasions, but the second time lines up with the invitation to chapel from his teammate on the Portland Pirates. It has given him some perspective on what is important in life.  He says “It gives you perspective on life and not wasting days or moments. Sometimes you get caught up in the chaos of life and you forget that it could be a whole lot worse.”

Here are my takeaways from these stories.

1- Perseverance is a process – God is able to help us persevere through any circumstances. Philippians 4.13 says “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me” (emphasis mine). That verse frequently is used to recognize God’s work in our great achievements. However, it is important to consider the other side of this verse as well. Depending on God helps us through the darkest days and hardest circumstances as well.  When our faith is tested and we learn to lean on Him, our faith grows and produces perseverance. It is a long hard journey, but coming through it shows God’s power to us in amazing ways.

2- More to life than success –  In both of these stories, these men who by most measures are successful hockey players. And both of them learned that there must be more than on ice success and the fame and fortune that it brings. Duchene sustained a serious injury that did not but could have threatened his career. Larsen was diagnosed with 2 forms of cancer a couple years apart. These instances led them to seek God and focus/refocus on Him to help them persevere. They did so, but know that it was only through His work and faithfulness that they were sustained. That is a great lesson for all of us to learn.  Enjoy the playoffs everyone!

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, 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.