Christians in the NHL Playoffs – the Staal Brothers

The Staal Family

Earlier this week, the New York Rangers pulled off an incredible comeback in game 4 of their playoff series against the Washington Capitals. Down by 1 late, they scored the tying goal with 7 seconds left in the third period.  Then, just over a minute in to Sudden Death OT, Marc Staal scored the winning goal, pushing the Rangers to within 1 win of reaching the semi-finals.  It was a big goal for Staal, and a great set-up for a look into the story of the hockey-playing Staal brothers from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Also, as we approach Mother’s day, a big part of the story of the Staal brothers, is their mother, Linda, who like many Canadian mothers, watched her kids grow up from the bleachers of the chilly ice rinks where her 4 sons honed their hockey skills.  She has had those efforts rewarded, too, as 3 of her sons Eric (Carolina), Marc (New York Rangers) and Jordan(Pittsburgh) are significant figures in the NHL, and the 4th, the youngest – Jared – is working his way toward the NHL, currently playing in the Carolina Hurricane’s system.

And while Marc is the only one left playing as this years playoffs wind down, we will look at all 4 brothers, and the foundation for  faith in God that was put in place by Linda and their Dad,  Henry.

An article by Sports Spectrum Magazine sums up the faith that Linda has in God and her faithful prayers for all of her sons.  As for her sons,  well, Eric is a regular at Hockey Ministries International  events.  You can hear his share about his faith in this video

 

Or read about him and a couple more star Christian hockey players at this link from Living Light Ministries.

I was unable to find any other articles that talked about the other brothers and their relationships with Christ, but mom Linda and Dad Henry have gone a long way to equip their sons with the foundation to look to God to guide their life.

Some points from this story:

1- As a dad, I am reminded of my duty (and joy) of telling my daughters about God’s love, and Jesus’s sacrifice (and our desperate need for both).  I appreciate Linda Staal’s efforts – devotional books and prayers for her sons, as well as understood church attendance and family devotional times when the boys were younger.  I am challenged to make every effort to give my girls the knowledge of who God is and the understanding of how desperately we need him so that they can forge a true and genuine relationship of their own with Him.  It brings to my mind the heartache of not being able to choose to follow God for them.  I wish I could make the decision for them – but that just isn’t how it works.  It is up to them to take the knowledge we can give them, as well as the modeling that we can do and then chose for themselves if they are going to follow God or not.  This is definitely a constant reminder to be faithfully praying for them every day and living out my relationship with God in a very visible way.

2- Eric Staal won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricane, Jordan Staal won a cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.  Now, in 2012 will it be Marc’s turn?  That remains to be seen.

Jordan Stall - Cup Champion 2009

Eric Staal - Cup Champion 2006

Marc Staal scoring the OT winner vs Washington - Cup Champion 2012???

 

 

3- As Mother’s Day approaches, and we looked at the Staal’s mother in this article, I would like to say Happy Mother’s Day to my own mother, Nellie, and thank her for living out a visible faith for us to see.  My brother’s and I are living God-centered lives and see the importance of passing the same on to our children, too.  Thank you, Mom, for helping to make God such an important part of our lives.

Christians in the NHL Playoffs – Shane Doan – Phoenix Coyotes

Coyotes' Captain Shane Doan

Ahhh! How I love trips down memory lane.  And Memory Lane welcomed me as I looked in to the story of today’s subject – Shane Doan, captain  of the Phoenix Coyotes.  As a young boy, I remember like so many of us, getting up early for Saturday morning television.  It was mostly cartoons, but I do remember watching “Circle Square” a 1/2 hour show that featured (if memory serves me) singing, puppets, actors and a story with some issue or dilemma and an eventual solution that pointed to Christ.  At the end of each episode, there would be a commercial for the Circle Square Ranch (there were a few of them scattered across Canada).  Archery, horseback riding, camping life – the placed looked like paradise to my 8 year old eyes.  

What does that memory have to do with Shane Doan?  Well, as you can read in this article from Canadian Christianity, Doan grew up on the Circle Square Ranch in Halkirk, Alberta, that his parents owned and operated.  He was active at the camp and saw a genuine faith being lived out in the lives of his father and the ranch hands at the camp.  And with these solid examples all around him, he began a genuine relationship of his own with Christ at the age of 12.

Hockey in Canada is a lot like football in Texas.  You see, hockey players – even as teenagers, are stars (Friday Night Lights-esque).  So with that as a backdrop – when Doan left his home and the comfort of the ranch at the age of 15, to play major junior hockey, (as elite as can be for 15-18 year olds) he was about to run head-on into the temptations that this world offers – parties, drugs, alcohol, girls.  I am reading Theoren Fleury’s biographical book “Playing with Fire” and he lays out in gritty detail, different troubles that are waiting to attack in the life of a young hockey star. Fleury went through some other things that not all young boys face, but his stories of the partying and hockey life are vivid.  If we are not prepared and solid on the foundation of our faith, then when temptation comes at us, it is so easy to compromise our beliefs and give in.  Look at the God’s advice to Cain in Genesis 4.7

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

I am the main leader for the 5th and 6th grade ministry at church (here is the Imprint 56 blog).  One of my main drives in working with youth is that I want to do whatever I can to help them form a genuine relationship with God.  It is so important to have a solid, personal foundation on Christ so that as the difficulties and trials of this life come against them, they can rely on Christ to lead them to make right choices.  This is the testimony of Shane Doan.  Check out this story from Christianity Today’s Ignite Magazine.  Here we read that Doan, at the age of 15, on his own, and 600 miles from home, he took a stand and chose not to compromise his beliefs and give into the temptations that his teammates were inviting him to.  He was not judgmental of them and their activities, he just decided that they were not for him.  We can’t expect those who don’t have a relationship with God to follow his laws and live by his standards.  He speaks a great truth in that if you take a stand the first time, it gets a little easier each time after that.

Doan scores against Columbus

Shane Doan has carved out quite a nice career in hockey.  He has played almost 12oo NHL regular season games, tallying just under 8oo career points with a longevity that saw him play for the Winnipeg Jets (who drafted him #7 overall) before they moved to Phoenix in 1996.  He has also competed in the World Championships on 5 occasions and was a member of the 2006 Canadian Olympic Team.  The one area in hockey that he has not been very much is Stanley Cup playoffs.  Going in to this spring’s run, he has played only 39 playoff games – never playing a game beyond the first round.  With the career that he has had, and the message he shares, and the fact that I really liked the Jets the first time they called Winnipeg home, it is easy to hope that Phoenix keeps playing this spring for a while.  Next to Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, Doan is the captain that I most hope to see hoist the cup in June!

 

 

Christians in the NHL Playoffs – Vancouver Canucks David Booth

The playoffs are just starting and there has been some surprises so far.  The Penguins, who Vegas put as the odds-on favorite to win the cup gave away leads in each of the first 2 games (at home no less) and find themselves in a hole against the Flyers that no team has ever climbed out of before (the Flyers have never lost a series that they took a 2-0 lead in).  And on the other side of the continent, the Vancouver Canucks won the President’s Trophy as the team with the most points in the Regular season.  They lost the first 2 games in Vancouver against Los Angeles and have their work cut out to stay in the playoffs.

David Booth - Vancouver Canucks

 

It is a member of the Vancouver Canucks that I want to draw your attention to in this, my second post on Christians in the NHL playoffs.  He has had success in his hockey life – In 2004 he was a member of team USA at the World Juniors, winning the first ever Gold medal for US at the World Junior Championship. Booth is now in his 6th season in the NHL.  He has not had the same level of success as of yet.  Wednesday Night was Booth’s first ever NHL playoff game.  He spent 5 years with the Florida Panthers who missed the playoffs each time,  before being traded  to Vancouver last October.  That is almost as far as you can get traded – Miami to Vancouver.  Booth has also battled injury in his career.  In the 2009-10 season, he missed 45 games with a concussion from a questionable hit.  Shortly after his return, he would sustain another concussion that would sideline him for the rest of the season.  He finished with 28 games played.  He returned to play all 82 the next season, leading the Panthers in goals and finished  3rd on the team in points.

He has done alright in Vancouver, he battled a knee injury that cost him a month or so, but he has found his scoring touch again, check out this goal he scored against the Edmonton Oilers earlier this month.

Nice move!  It is good to see Booth getting noticed for his goal scoring because he spent a lot of time being mentioned on the discussion about concussions and legal/illegal hits.

But that injury and the long recovery from it was not wasted time.  As you can hear in this video testimony from Hockey Ministries International.  Check it out.

God can and does use our experiences to teach us more about him.  We don’t like it much – it is hard and unpleasant and can teach us things about ourselves that we don’t like to find out.  Booth realized that maybe he was putting hockey first, and the time away from the game, to recover from this injury, was great introspective time to reset the focus on God and see that His plan is best.

There is also a video of David Booth’s appearance on “After Hours” on CBC.  It is a half hour, so I wont embed it here, but you can check it out if you want by clicking here (Hear him reference God working through the concussion at about the 7:10 time mark.)

Booth Scores against Edmonton

I am impressed by Booth.  He was just traded before this “after hours” appearance – it was after his 3rd game as a Canuck – and here, in this new city, market and media center.  It is a little challenging to go from Florida where there you are largely an afterthought in the sports landscape to Vancouver, where to a certain extent, you have a whole nation of hockey crazed people watching with interest, either in rabid support, or ready cheering adamantly against.  To come to  this spot and be up front with the importance that your faith in Christ plays in your life and how for you, hockey isn’t the most important thing – well that is a boldness that shows that what you are saying is true.  And even though you make others think you not as outspoken about your faith as others who share it, (This blogger mentions Rocco Grimaldi in his post, click here to read my post about  Grimaldi) you are capturing their attention with your play AND your faith.  And that boldness and willingness to declare yourself as a follower of God is something that makes me ready to cheer you on.  Last year, I rooted against the Canucks when they battled the Bruins.  Should the situation repeat itself this year (looking unlikely at this point) then I will do the same, but I will also be ok with a successful Canucks if it means Booth and teammate Dan Hamhuis – also a Christ-follower, have more opportunities to share what God is doing in their lives.

Christians in the NHL Playoffs – Nashville Predators Mike Fisher

These are the hardest 3 days of the NHL season for die hard fans whose team has made it successfully to the NHL playoffs and the search for the Stanley Cup.  These 3 days between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs can be excruciating (which is funny because there is still such a long road ahead.  The Cup will not be awarded for another 2 months.  I am excited because, for the first time in my life, my team (the Boston Bruins) enter as the defending champs. In reality, all that means is that my time to gloat about my favorite team winning it all is running out, unless they can put together another amazing run.

Nashville Predators' Mike Fisher

I love hockey.  Watching it, following it, remembering the wonderful playoff hockey pools that my friends and I would have – I was always lousy at it, but it was a fun, social activity.  However, I have come to learn through the research for these blog posts, that hockey players are less likely to be followers of Christ than any other major North American Sport.  Their stories are harder to find – maybe it is because interest in hockey is not as wide spread as other sports (although being from Canada, I find that hard to believe because it is so entrenched in our culture).

So when I do find these stories, I love to share them.  I will look into some of the playoff hockey teams in the days and weeks to come and will (hopefully) find a few of these stories to share.

We will start with the story of Mike Fisher.  He has been playing in the NHL since 1999, playing for the Ottawa Senators for 12 years before a trade sent him to the Nashville Predators.  Check out this video by CBN about Fisher’s faith and God-centered life.

 

For more on Fisher’s story,you can read the book about his life (something I hope to do soon) visit his website, or  check out this blog post from Chad Bonham over at Inspiring Athletes. Fisher talks about trusting God’s plan even when life is hard – and knowing that life WILL be hard!  He also shares the way that complete trust is important and necessary to a good and strong marriage.  His wife, country music singer Carrie Underwood, and he have different schedules that has them both traveling (and apart) often.  Trust is something that needs to grow, needs to develop by having the other person prove to be worthy of that trust.

Mike and wife Carrie Underwood

 

Fisher also discusses trust and how, like with anyone else, trust is so important to growing a strong relationship with God.  The difference is that God is always trustworthy and will not let us down like people tend to do from time to time.  One of the people I most relate to in the Bible is the father in Mark 9.  The man’s son has been battling this issue all of his life, where he, possessed by a demon, will writhe and seize, throwing himself into the fire or water, and has him gnashing teeth and foaming at the mouth.  The father comes to Jesus and asks “if you can do anything, please help us”  Jesus replies – “Anything is possible for one who believes”.  The father replies very honestly. ” I do believe, help my unbelief”.

How often do we find ourselves in this place.  We know what God has said, and we know what God can do, and still we doubt.  We can recite countless stories about God doing impossible things, but we have a hard time believing that he can do something in our situation.  I love that father’s answer for a couple of reasons.

#1 – because I am often there.  Wanting to believe but afraid to get my hopes up.  Afraid that if it doesn’t work out the way I want it to, that I will either blame God for letting me down, or blaming myself, searching for sin in my life or some other way that I misread what God was doing.

And #2 – It is a reminder that we don’t need to have it all together.  We don’t need to have it all figured out.  The disciples in the story didn’t have it all figured out either.  They had been praying for healing and freedom from this demon and it had not worked.  We all tend to struggle and doubt from time to time.  We lose sight of what God has done, and don’t believe that he can help us.

For this reason, I find this story very reassuring.  It is OK to let God know that we do believe in him, but we struggle sometimes to REALLY believe.  He’s OK with that.  He is not going to to tell us that we blew our chance.  He will lovingly remind us that belief in Him will show us impossible things being possible.  And the more we are called to trust on God, the more we will see him prove faithful and trust-worthy and the stronger our faith will grow.

Hockey playoffs start tonight.  The Predators take on the Red Wings.  I’m not a big fan of the Red Wings, so I hope that the Predators take the series.  I hope Mike  Fisher is a big part of the reason why.  And I wish him lots of success, unless Nashville meets up with the Bruins in the Finals.   Enjoy the playoffs hockey fans!

 

NHL draft special

I am going to take a brief brake from my series on Christian Baseball players and celebrate the end of the hockey season and the start of the off season.  First of all, congratulations to my favorite team – the Boston Bruins – in winning their first Stanley Cup in my lifetime.  I found the series exciting and the results were my wildest hockey dreams coming true.  Entertaining stuff!

And that ushers in the start of the off season.  When  I was younger, and had greater access to hockey in general (It is, after all one of Canada’s national sports) I would follow the up and coming players with great interest and so when the draft arrived, I would settle in and watch it with deep routed interest, much like what happens with the NFL draft here in the USA.  I knew the players, and had some idea about their game and so I knew who I hoped would go to teams I liked, and what my favorite teams needed to improve. (I studied this a lot because, as mentioned, my favorite team ALWAYS needed to improve – they were never the best until this past season).

Unfortunately, as a grown up, I need to focus attention on other things, and it isn’t as easy to find hockey coverage here in the US, especially the Canadian Junior Leagues – the main feeder of Canadian players to the NHL)
But as the draft approached last weekend, I was watching with great interest where 1 player in particular would wind up.

Rocco Grimaldi

His name is Rocco Grimaldi.  He was drafted by the Florida Panthers, and he is an outspoken Christ follower.  He is very active in social media and is always ready and willing to share his faith and what God is teaching him.
Of the 4 major sports in North America, hockey seems to have fewer people who boldly claim a relationship with God.  So when I learn of Christians in hockey, I appreciate that they are in a vast mission field and I hope and pray that they have plenty of opportunities to speak out about their faith in God to fans, teammates, and whoever else is around to listen.

Read this article from Yahoo Sports for more about Grimaldi and his faith.

Tim Tebow

One of the questions the article asks is “did his faith cause some teams to stay away from him?”  I have heard similar thoughts about Tim Tebow, an outspoken Christ follower who plays quarterback for the NFL’s Denver Broncos.  His new book has just been released and I look forward to reading more about his story.

Tebow’s New Book
But as for being bold in our faith, the temptation may be to stay quiet and keep one’s faith inside.  I know that this is not just a temptation that professional athletes face, but a temptation that we all face.  No one likes to be made fun of. No one likes to be looked at as weird or annoying.  We all like to be liked, and to be popular.  But is that what really matters?  What is more important?  Is having people like us the most  important thing? Is it important even if they don’t consider the God we believe in to be important? Or is it more important to represent our God and stand up for our belief in him, regardless of what others may say or think?

We don’t face much in the way of persecution for our beliefs at this stage of history.  Ridicule seems to be as bad as it gets.  So what should we do?  The Bible also tells us that if we are silent, even the rocks will cry out to the glory of God.  If God’s glory is so evident and powerful that even rocks will cry out, then I think we can be confident that  He’s got our back if we boldly claim faith in him to the masses, whoever they may be.  And whatever they may think.

So welcome to the NHL Rocco.  I am already a fan of yours for what I’ve seen/read/learned about you.

Stay bold and keep the faith!