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.

On the Defensive – Boston Bruins Nick Holden and Brandon Carlo

Well, it has been more than 2 months – sorry for the delay oh faithful readers, but there is no better time to get back into this blog than during the NHL playoffs. They are well underway with the eyes of the 8 remaining teams set firmly on the Stanley Cup. I really enjoy sharing the stories of pro athletes who have chosen to live their lives following Jesus – but I really relish writing these articles when the players I write about are on my favorite team. That is the case this time around as I put together a double feature of Boston Bruins defensemen in this post.

So much Fun – Nick Holden

However, the two men I write about tonight are not often seen in the playoffs this year. Nick Holden is playing a depth role for the Bruins – picking up an assist in the only game he has played thus far. He will fill in for an injured or slumping player as needed but so far, the Bruins are rolling and have only called on him the one time.

Holden has played in one playoff game with the Bruins this season.

Acquired from the New York Rangers earlier this year, the Bruins are Holden’s 4th NHL team. He played with the Colorado Avalanche for 3 seasons after breaking into the league with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 30 year old will be a free agent this summer. Holden is not too worried about Free agency though. His philosophy in hockey and in life is  “If you have your passion, just continue following it… Just keep pushing and work hard, and you can only control what you can control. God has a plan for everybody, so you just have to do what you can do.”  He also focus on having fun. And he knows that hockey has been a gift from God that has led to some amazing experiences. This article from the Speaking from Springfield calls Holden a “person of deep faith, Holden says he is fortunate despite injuries which sidelined him for the season last year.“God blesses you with many gifts. Luckily, my gift is to play hockey. It led me to my wife. It led me to my career.” 

Will it lead him and the Bruins to the top of the hockey world this year? That remains to be seen, but I feel like with Holden, he will be satisfied with whatever God brings his way.

Ups and Downs – Brandon Carlo.

Carlo missed the Playoffs last year with an injury

Brandon Carlo was a rookie with the Bruins last year. He was a solid contributor, playing in all 82 games last season and in 76 this time around. He routinely played over 20 minutes a game and has 22 points in 158 career games. However, one missing item from Carlo’s resume is playoff hockey. Last season, despite playing all 82 games, he sat out the Bruins 6 game series against the Ottawa Senators with an injury. He was again a solid contributor this year, but suffered a broken ankle late in the season that again cost him the post season experience. It was a terrible injury and the Bruins and Carlo’s fans (like me) are hoping and praying for a speedy and full recovery.

And will miss them again this year after a horrific injury late in the season

And I have confidence that Carlo will take this injury in side and work on his recovery with a great attitude. One of the tattoos that Carlo has is the string of sybols G>^v. (God is Greater that the ups and downs).  Another is a reminder to live by faith, not by sight. It is a verse that his mother would often quote to him and now he says that his tattoo “ties me with my mom and my religion as a Christian.”

And so as the playoffs continue to move towards the cup final, I hope the Bruins go along for the ride. But with both of these men that spent time on their blue line, their purpose is much more than a run for the cup. They are putting God first and trusting Him to control the things that are out of their control.

Check out my facebook page  this weekend for links to past stories I have written about players involved in these playoffs. Enjoy the great hockey that remains as we wait to see who will win the Stanley Cup this year.

 

Olympic Faith part 3 – Skis & Skates – David Wise USA Freestyle Skiing – Half Pipe & Nicole Helmsley USA Women’s Ice Hockey

Soohorang & Bandabi – 2018 PyeongChang Olympics Mascots

I just finished watching the movie “Eddie the Eagle”. I had watched it before, but it was fun to watch during the Olympics. (we watched Cool Runnings last week too) and being a young Canadian during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, I remember the attention that the story drew from the media. Eddie the Eagle was a huge part of those games. And the movie showed the lengths that he took to fulfill his Olympic dream.

David Wise en route to Olympic gold in 2014

It takes a lifetime of effort to qualify for the Olympics. If you should happen to medal it must be the icing on the cake. To qualify again four years later and get a chance to defend your title is another amazing accomplishment in itself. That is where Freestyle Skier David Wise finds himself  – Back in the Olympics, attempting to remain the only man on the planet to win Olympic Gold in this event. 

Wise with his Sochi 2014 medal is hoping to add a 2018 one to his collection.

Sochi was the Olympic Debut for Freestyle Skiers in the Halfpipe. Wise won Gold. It was a culmination of years of hard work and a dream come true for Wise. But his return to the Olympics has been an arduous journey as well. As you can read in this article from Religion News, some had written him off due to injury and other issues. On his blog, he writes “I am coming off the worst two seasons of my competitive career… A lot of things played into my lack of success in the past couple years: I had an injured shoulder and back, three separate concussions, my wife lost her father, my sister Christy was in a boating accident and lost her leg, I had a dear student of mine commit suicide. Not to mention my wife and I had our second child, Malachi, shortly after the Olympics in Sochi…. After Alexandra gave birth to Malachi, she went through a hard year of postpartum depression – something more common than most people realize… ” He continues to discuss that some turned their back on him (including sponsors) but that has only fueled his fire to give it his all in PyeongChang. CBN recently wrote an article about Wise.

Wise, with his wife Alexandra and their 2 kids. Faith in God has carried them many hard things

You won’t see the 27-year-old freestyle skier of the Halfpipe talking about God in interviews … What you will see is Wise talking about serving others and his family. Wise told SportsSprectrum.com  he would rather consistently live out his faith before talking a lot about it. “I don’t tell my Christian friends I’m a pro-skier. I don’t tell my skier friends I’m a Christian,” Wise said. “But you’re going to find out if you spend enough time with me either way.

 

Wise is ready to go on February 20 in the Half Pipe.

Also, check out this story from The War Cry. He says “(faith) has to be personal or else it’s not real,” Wise said. “That’s the most important part. If Christianity were just another world religion it would just be another example of people trying to earn God’s favor. The reality is Christ chose us because he wants that relationship with us. Discovering that on my own is when I really, truly felt it was my faith …We either choose to seek or we choose to drown it out with other things. I love in Jeremiah where it says if you seek me with all your heart you will find me,” Wise said. “That’s my experience. I went through life and I got to the point where I realized I just believed what I was told for a long time. Now I need to discover what it is I truly believe. What’s really true.”

My main Takeaway:

1- It’ll show – There is a lot of truth in what Wise said about his faith and his work. He doesn’t tell skiers he is a Christian, he doesn’t tell Christian friends he is a skier – spend enough time with him, who he is shows up. That is a great challenge for us. If you are a Christian, does Christ “show up” in your daily life so much  that even without declaring your faith, others know that it is part of who you are? I know that this thought challenges me to be more intentional with how I live. I want my actions to support the faith I have in God and the life He calls me to live.

Team USA goalie Nicole Hemsley

Goaltender Nicole Hensley is in her first Winter Olympics. She is a goaltender for the Women’s hockey team that has aspirations of gold after 4 straight Olympic Silver Medals. In her first game of the Olympic tournament, Hensley turned aside all 13 shots that she faced as USA defeated the Olympic Athletes from Russia team 5-0. For Hensley, her faith in God is very important to her. She knows that she has a platform to tell others about Him and does so frequently sharing bible verses on Twitter and even featuring some favorite verses on her goalie masks. She says
He’s also given me a bit of a platform to possibly reach others who are wondering about their faith, or maybe don’t have any faith, or want to grow stronger in their faith. Maybe it’s a way to start a conversation with somebody” . 

Hensley has been known to feature Bible Verses on her goalie mask.

Now, despite how easy it all looks from the comfort of my own couch, I understand that all Olympic journeys have more bumps than a moguls run. There are hardships at every turn and challenges that must be overcome. When these hard things come, we are often tempted to give up or turn away. But as Hensley shares in this CBN article, “Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, obviously He had a plan in every single place that He put me. It is easy to say that now, but really it’s just taught me that through the hardships you have to trust in your faith. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable to either grow in your faith or grow as a person or player as well

Hensley backstopped team USA to a 5-0 shutout against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the opening round of the Olympic tournament.

My takeaway:

I’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating because it is a lesson, sadly, that we need to learn over and over again. God is not calling us to a life of comfort. Far from it. When we are truly following God and living for Him, there will be many hard time that make things plenty uncomfortable for us. But in those times, and as Hensley mentions after those times come to an end, or at least give us a brief moment of rest, we see that God had purpose for the pain. It was a process of helping us lean on Him alone and put complete faith in his plan. May we always be ready to step out of our comfort zone if it leads us to a deeper faith in Him.

 

NHL Playoffs – Final Four – Chris Neil – Ottawa Senators and Chris Wagner – Anaheim Ducks

We have reached the semi finals in the NHL playoffs and it has been a very entertaining playoff thus far.  In the past I have written posts about players on the Penguins (Matt Cullen) and Nashville Predators (Mike Fisher), and so I thought it would be good to share some stories from the other 2 teams too.

First to the Ottawa Senators and their rugged winger Chris Neil.

Chris Neil greets former teammate Mike Fisher at a game in Ottawa.  Are the Preds and Sens going to meet in the Cup Finals this year?

His story is an amazing one in that he was a sixth round draft pick in the 1998 draft (#161 overall). He has played all 15 seasons in his career with the Senators. This year, he played his 1,000th NHL game.  His best season in was 2005-2006 when he scored 16 goals and added 17 assists (both career highs).  It was also one of his 4 seasons with more than 200 penalty minutes.  The latter is what Neil is most known for.  With over 2,500 career penalty minutes, his tough play is his calling card.  As you can read in this article from the Ottawa Sun, even though Neil is known for his tough physical play and his willingness to fight the opponent’s toughest competitor, he is also a loving family man, a prankster and a devout Christian who was a roommate with Mike Fisher while Fisher was in Ottawa.

He says “I was always part of Vacation Bible School as a kid … My mom had a very strong faith. We’d go to church. Sometimes she couldn’t go because she had to take the other kids to hockey and I’d ride my bike to church. It gave me something to believe in and something to look forward to every Sunday — to worship God.

Neil is known as a tough competitor, but he has a great heart giving back to his community.

Neil and his wife Caitlin met at church.  They have been married since 2006 and have 3 kids.  They have become very active in the community, as an advocate for “Roger’s House” a pediatric care center named after former Senator’s coach Roger Neilsen.  Neil is 37 and played in only 2 playoff games thus far, but he has been a key part of the Senators for 16 years and is no doubt excited to be a part of this team on a deep run towards the Stanley Cup. Will they get their chance? We will find out this week.

And in Anaheim, we meet winger Chris Wagner.

Wagner celebrates a goal against the Flyers. He has played parts of 3 seasons with the Ducks.

The Anaheim Ducks have their own Chris that was drafted late.  Chris Wagner was drafted by the Ducks in the fifth round of the 2010 entry draft. He played 2 seasons of college hockey with Colgate and 2 years of play with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL before getting a couple tastes of NHL action. He would play 20 games over a season and a half with the Ducks. However, at one point during the 2015-2016 season, the Ducks were forced to put Wagner on waivers to send him down and that allowed other teams to be able to claim him. And he was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche.

He played with Colorado for 26 games scoring 4 goals for them. But he was again placed on waivers and reclaimed by the Ducks. He played 6 more games for them, netting 2 assissts.  He played 43 games with the Ducks this year, scoring 6 goals. He has played in every Ducks game this playoffs, scoring 2 goals. On the FCA Hockey Page, Wagner shares a favorite verse – one he learned as a child at AWANA, and the importance he sees in it.  He says “John 3:16, This verse is so important to me because it sums up the keys to Christianity and is the easiest to explain to a non-believer. I remember being taught this verse my first day at AWANA and after memorizing it, I have never forgot it.”

Wagner scored in a game 5 loss. The Ducks are down 3-2 in the series.

My Takeaway

1- Faith Like a Child – Both Chris Neil and Chris Wagner talk about being involved in their church at a young age.  Through programs like Vacation Bible School and AWANA help kids know the truth about who God is the depth of his love, forgiveness and grace.  I’ve had the pleasure of working in children’s ministry for many years. I love working with kids and challenging them to seek God for themselves. When a youth chooses to really put learning about God a priority and make him the most important part of their life, the things they learn will not leave them. Do you have opportunities to pour into the lives of youth? How can God use you to share his love with the younger generation and help equip them to depend on Him for the rest of their lives?

 

Stanley Cup Finals Special – Eric Fehr & Matt Cullen – Pittsburgh Penguins

Stanley Cup Final LogoI can’t remember the moment when I first started watching hockey – I’m sure I was too young to form memories. But I do love this time of year. The talent level is outstanding and the games are a blast to watch. However, I know that it means that the season will soon come to an end and the long wait for next season will begin. And since the next game of the Stanley Cup Finals could be the last game of the season, I thought I would take one more opportunity to talk about the stories of some of the players in the series.

A few years back, I wrote a post about Sharks backup goalie James Reimer (then with the Maple Leafs).

May 16, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) celebrates his goal with right wing Eric Fehr (L) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period in game two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) celebrates his goal with right wing Eric Fehr (L) earlier in this year’s playoffs

And so today I will focus on a couple players on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

First to Eric Fehr. He scored an insurance goal in game 4 that secured the win for the Penguins. Check it out

21 December 2015: Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Eric Fehr (16) skates during the first period in the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

Fehr is with his 3rd different NHL team (after Winnipeg and 2 stints in Washington). This is his first Stanley Cup Final

Eric Fehr was drafted in the first round (18th overall) by the Washington Capitals in 2003 after a stellar Junior Career with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He made his debut in 2005-2006 season and became a mainstay in the NHL in 2008.  He has played in over 500 NHL games and is closing in on the 100 plateau in both career goals and assists. He is also a published author, writing a children’s book about bullying called “The Bulliest Dozer” Read more in this article from WashingtonCapitals.com.  As you can read in this article from Promise Keepers Canada, Fehr has faced some challenges in his career – recovering from injury, not fitting in with coaches, the pressure of playing in his home town, but his faith in God has helped him in these trials. He says “Once again it goes back to knowing life doesn’t begin and end with hockey“. He continues, “My feeling is, don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all He has done. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4.6-7)

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Fehr reads the anti-bullying book he authored to kids.

My takeaway from Fehr’s story:

He is our Guardian – This story connected with me because of the verses that he shares. I had read it many times, likely memorized it for some VBS or kids programming, but when I read it this time, my attention was drawn to the second part of this passage. I have the wonderful joy of being a dad to 4 girls. I love who they are and am frequently amazed at how they process and learn. Our second oldest – Olivia (almost 7) is very imaginative and has a great memory. Which is great, except when something that may be a little scary enters her world.  We have a Valentines tradition that I take my girls to a movie in the theater as a Valentine’s celebration. This year, the movie of choice was “Zootopia”. It is a very clever movie and funny throughout. But since that time, Olivia has struggled with bad dreams or thoughts about some of the scarier instances from the movie. We have struggled to come up with something that helps her. But I think there is an answer in this passage from Philippians 4. The next time that she struggles with these fears and it keeps her from sleeping, I am going to read these verses to her. It is a lesson for me too. I can be pessimistic or afraid to really step out and trust God. Re-read those verses again!  Do you see it? the promise and help that God offers. Tell God about everything, recognize what He has done and let his peace settle in you as you draw closer to Him. I will encourage Olivia to think about all the ways God has been at work in our family. I will pray with her for God’s peace to guard her heart and mind. I will do the same when stress is wearing me down at work or keeping me awake at night. God’s peace is a resource for us. Rest in Him!

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Matt Cullen is already a Stanley Cup Champ with the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricane.

Now Matt Cullen‘s story presents a similar point too. As you can read in this interview with Chad Bonham from Inspiring Athletes, Cullen shares a lot about fear. He says “So often in the Bible we see the words “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid.” When we give in to fear, it’s because we’re not trusting God. What are we afraid of? Everything is out of our hands anyway.” Cullen is in his 19th season in the NHL. Drafted by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the second round of the 1996 entry draft, Cullen has played for 8 teams in his NHL career. He won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06. Check out this video of talking about hockey and his faith in God on CBN from a couple seasons ago when he played with Nashville.

Here are my takeaways from Cullen’s story

1- Don’t let your skates get dull – The interviewer at one point talks about letting a skate blade or one’s faith get dull. I like this analogy because if you have ever seen an NHL player – a very talented ice skater – “lose an edge”  Check out this video for an example, or read about the science of it here

When the skate blade goes dull, so does the effective ability to skate. When our faith dulls, we also cease to be effective in carrying out the mission that has been entrusted to us. Faith means belief and hope even when a solution is not easily seen. When our faith begins to waiver, we are not able to continue doing what we have been doing in the same way. Doubt can bind us up. It is like in Matthew 14, when Peter steps out of the boat and begins walking on the water toward Jesus. When his faith begins to waiver because he realizes that what he is doing is impossible and he is in the midst of a storm, he begins to sink. Sharpening our faith comes through seeing God at work and with us in our circumstance be it trial, hardship or mountain top experience.

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Cullen’s 3 sons are along for the journey of this Stanley Cup run. No doubt they are excited that their dad is one win away.

2- Connection with Dad – Cullen talks about his hockey dreams as a youth being more about playing for his dad, the local high school coach, than the NHL. Now that Cullen is an NHL veteran, he shares the journey he is on with his own sons. Check out this article from the Players Tribune by Cullen about his sons and the playoff run they are currently on. It is great to read about the relationship Cullen has both with his dad and his sons. I have a good relationship with my dad. I have learned a lot from him and as a dad, I want to build a strong relationship to my kids, too. But I also know that there are many out there that do not have a good example to look to as a dad. There are lots of kids (and former kids) that grew up not knowing or barely knowing their dad. There are some whose dad was abusive, others where he was invisible. But Jesus talked about God as our Heavenly Father. He is the perfect example of love. He is protector, provider, teacher and visionary. And He wants you to know that you are His and you are loved. He went to great lengths so you could be with Him forever. John 1.12 says “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”. Will you connect with your Heavenly Dad?