As a child growing up, I played many sports including baseball, soccer and hockey. I also enjoyed many outdoors activities such as water skiing, camping and backpacking. However, hockey was my passion. I loved being on the ice. I loved the feeling of making a big save or winning a tough game. I loved hanging out with my teammates in the locker-room and playing mini-sticks in the hotel hallways. And I certainly loved all the fancy and expensive equipment that came with being a goalie!
Hockey was a passion and I was good at it, so I found security, acceptance and self-worth from being a hockey player. And although many other activities demanded my time and energies, they all revolved around hockey. When I left school early, I didn’t have to tell anyone where I was going; they knew I was heading out of town for a weekend tournament. Holiday gatherings during the hockey season were scheduled based on our game schedule. Several family vacations were determined by the chosen hockey camp for the summer. Hockey was my life, my passion and truly who I was as a child growing up.
Approaching 8th grade, many players from the travel team in my hometown were trying-out for a triple-A (AAA) team about 90 minutes away. I followed. I quickly learned that the other two goaltenders at tryouts were returning from the previous year, both very good and one was the head coach’s son. I went to tryouts, put my best foot forward and did in fact get cut. For the first time in my hockey career, I wasn’t good enough. With barely enough players left in my hometown, I tried out for another out of town team. I got cut. And who of all people was offered a spot instead of me…a girl goalie! I must admit, she was pretty good and ended up playing Division 1 women’s hockey.
My ego was taking a pretty big hit by this point. With no options locally, I ended up playing for a JV team about an hour away, which was actually a good experience. A good goalie playing for a weak team…to say the least, I got a lot of shots! I went on to play high school hockey for four years, winning the Goalie of the Year Award in my senior year, a small scholarship based on athletic and academic performance and voted to First team All-star for the league.
Now with my playing days behind me and looking back on my experiences, part of me has regrets. What if I had worked a little harder off the ice to develop more strength and better quickness? What if I had pushed myself harder during the many training camps I attended? What if my dad was the head coach? What if…? That’s the part of me that is jealous when I see that coach’s son, who beat me out of a spot on the AAA team, playing in the NHL and winning medals, trophies and million-dollar contracts. That’s the prideful part of me that blames not making the cut on everything else besides me. That’s the worldly part of me that defines success by fame and fortune. That’s the selfish part of me. The old me.
The other part of me looks back on that experience of getting cut from competitive hockey as an open door. Right about the same time that I was transitioning away from competitive hockey, my family began attending church. The only time I had ever attended church was when I was staying with a friend whose family attended mass. At the time, I didn’t know God, didn’t want to know God…I wanted to play hockey (remember that was the selfish…ok we’ll add spoiled…me). However, I began to attend the youth group, make Christian friends, learn about the Bible and begin to value things outside of a hockey rink.
I still played hockey but it no longer defined me. My faith defined me. Mission trips replaced hockey camps. I spent time with friends from youth group rather than my teammates. My identity left the cold ice rink and found the warm comfort of God’s presence. I discovered the Truth and no longer needed to be good enough. In fact it’s in recognizing that I wasn’t good enough, nor could I ever be, that I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
My sister presented the Gospel to me when I was 14. She explained that the only way to heaven was through knowing God and accepting Jesus Christ. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven and that I wasn’t perfect. So in faith I accepted Christ. I asked him to forgive me for my sins and surrendered my life to Him. Through a patient and kind mentor at church, involvement with various different church activities and developing friendships with other Christians, I learned what it meant to be a Christian. I learned about God’s love…His unconditional, patient and everlasting love.
I learned from hockey that even though I was pretty good, I could still get cut. God doesn’t make cuts. If you choose to join His team, He’ll gladly add you to the roster! As I began my journey with God, I saw many of my former teammates and fellow classmates in high school getting involved with alcohol, drugs, sex and other activities, which the world defines as ‘kids just being kids.’ While tempted at times, I found accountability in my Christian circle of family and friends. And when I did falter, I found forgiveness in God’s love.
Upon graduation from high school, that circle of friends went various different directions. Some found freedom from their parents’ religion and strayed from the church scene. Some were determined to experience college life in its full. Some simply moved away. Although my family was still a big part of my life and remained a strong foundation, from a social perspective, I had lost the accountability that my circle of friends created.
At the start of my freshman year in college, my former coach called to inquire as to whether I would be interested in helping coach his travel team. I enjoyed working with kids and certainly still loved hockey. I rationalized getting (and staying) involved with hockey at that level again as an opportunity to be a Godly example to my players. In many cases, I was, and God did use those relationships as an open door to introduce others to Him.
However, as the social accountability strayed and the temptations of the world became more and more prevalent, not only in the realm of college but also in the world of hockey, my walk with God became less and less of a priority. I continued to coach, continued to pursue worldly success and make my way through college. While by many definitions I was doing well, spiritually I was faltering.
By the grace of God and in His perfect timing, I met someone who brought a renewed sense of hope, accountability and excitement to my spiritual life. She was pure and kept me pure. She was holy and kept me holy. She was humble and kept me humble. She is now my wife, best friend, mother of my children and continues to keep me in check!
And although my spiritual walk has experienced ups and downs, and I have faltered on many occasions, His grace is sufficient for me. My Christianity is not based on how good I am but on how good God is. We all have a void in our hearts that we try to fill with a variety of things. What I have learned either directly or indirectly is that no matter how hard we try, we can’t fill that void. Sports can’t (not even hockey). Drugs and alcohol can’t. Successful careers can’t. Boyfriends/girlfriends, sex and dating can’t. Fame and fortune can’t. A big house and fancy cars can’t. Spouses, kids and family can’t. But…God can. As difficult as it is to admit that we can’t, it is only through complete surrender that we experience peace and joy in our lives.
I believe that our fundamental human nature desires two primary feelings: (1) feeling of control and (2) instant fulfillment. Christianity is about giving control of our lives to God and sacrificing what we want for what God wants. That’s tough, especially since we all have varying degrees of selfishness and pride. So while we think that we can get what we want by controlling our own destiny and making decisions on our own, we neglect God’s perfect will for our lives. And while we strive for instant gratification in so many aspects of our lives, we are missing out on all the riches that God has in store for us (isn’t a home-cooked dinner better than a microwaved one?).
I’m not sure who originally made the following comment, but it has guided me through a few very significant decisions in my life. “If you truly love something, let it go; if it never returns, it was never meant to be.” After coaching for 8 years and feeling the hockey culture pull me away from God, I took a year off. When it came time to decide whether or not to coach the following season, I prayerfully considered it, surrendered it to God and He returned hockey to me.
After praying for about a month that I coach only if it was consistent with God’s will, I received a call from the program director of our local youth organization. He offered me the opportunity to coach a great team at the perfect age group. I informed him that I would consider the opportunity and get back to him in a few days. The very next morning, out of nowhere, my 3 year old daughter said, “Daddy, you need to coach again.” God opened the door and gave me a nudge to enter. I see Him leading me to use hockey coaching as a ministry rather than just a hobby. I pray for open doors to share my faith with my players and their families. I’m excited for the opportunities that God has in store for me with hockey, both in and outside the rink.
So with a beautiful and loving family, a successful and growing career, over a decade of competitive coaching experience, and a renewed passion for serving God unashamedly…I am sharing my life story with you. However, my life story is not the one that matters most. And while your life story matters, neither is it the one that matters most. The life story that matters most is the one whose birth we celebrate on December 25th each year. It’s a true story. It’s a living story full of action and adventure. It could be the ultimate love story or the ultimate horror. That’s where your life story enters…you choose.
You choose love or misery. You choose control or surrender. You choose selfishness or Godliness. You choose life or death. You choose world or God. You choose Heaven or Hell. Although God created the world and is all-powerful, He does not force us to choose Him. He gave us the freedom to choose Him and gave His Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice on our behalf. That is true love. I invite you to surrender your life to God and come to know Him as your personal Lord and Savior. Remember, God doesn’t make cuts. You don’t have to be good enough. Come as you are and allow Him to fill the void in your heart.