EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story first appeared in FCA’s Magazine March/April 2018 edition.
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).
While my mother, Karen, was in labor with me, my father, Michael, was watching a Detroit Red Wings game in the hospital. So I can say, quite literally, that hockey has been a part of my life since the moment I came into this world.
Naturally, my parents—both avid Red Wings fans and season-ticket holders—played a key role in developing my love for hockey. More importantly, though, they helped lay the foundation for my walk with Jesus, too. That established an identity early, understanding morality and what truth was, which really helped me later in life.
The Bible talks about training kids when they’re young and giving them a foundation. When you’re told the truth, and when you live by the truth, that’s something that cannot be taken away from you. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t have to find pleasure or happiness in things that I could lose. What was so attractive about Christianity is that your joy comes in all circumstances.
And I found a lot of joy playing hockey.
When you’re a young kid in Michigan, you always hear how hard it is to make it to junior hockey, college, the minor leagues, and—last but not least—the NHL. Knowing that, I was never really focused on the NHL as my “end goal.” I just really enjoyed the game. I loved playing with my friends. I knew God was in control of everything, so He had a plan for my life and whatever was going to happen in hockey.
For college, I was originally pursued by Michigan, but before committing there, I took a visit to Michigan State. They offered me a full scholarship and I accepted. I think that was a way of God handling my life, because I was able to get involved with Athletes in Action, where I matured in my faith.
Phil Gillespie was the leader and a great mentor. He really invested in the athletes and took time to make sure each person understood what the Gospel meant. Yes, the hockey was also good, and I developed those skills. But looking back at Michigan State, I’ll always remember how much I grew in my faith.
When I made my NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in 2006, it was a special moment for my family and me. I remember watching all those games as a child, watching “Hockey Night” in Canada and the rivalries between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s when I was like, “Man, I’m playing with some of the players I watched growing up.” I was 21, playing with 35-, 36-, 37-year-olds, just trying to fit in.
That was tough to do back then, but I always knew I had my family and my faith as my support. Jesus Christ accepts us no matter where we’re at or who we are. That was comforting, and that’s what kept me going, continuing to see His favor in my life.
Now, a decade into my NHL career that has spanned four different teams, I can say that I’ve truly been blessed by the relationships I’ve made with teammates and the things I’ve experienced as a professional athlete.
The joys haven’t come without trials, though, especially when it comes to injuries. I’ve had a couple concussions. I’ve broken my knee a couple times. I’ve broken my foot, my ankle, my hand. Those are times when I’ve realized I’m not as strong as I think I am. I can’t do it all on my own. I think of 2 Cor. 12:9: “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
That verse is a constant reminder that God’s in control, and He has our best interests in mind for us. He always keeps calling us back to Him, through little ways that draw us closer to Him.