It is ironic that today’s story is about Gary Steffes retiring from hockey to purse his career with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Gary often talks about his imperfect self and what faith means in his life. The irony today is my imperfection as it relates to this story as I promised it would be posted yesterday. However, a 4:30 am trip to take my lovely wife to the airport (two hours), a bike breakdown on my morning 25 mile ride (two hours), a trip to the local bike shop (two hours) and my writing desire for the day was gone. Sorry for this story being a day late. Hope you enjoy it.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the retirement statement issued by the ECHL that Gary authored here it is. It captures perfectly Gary’s two passions, his faith and hockey. The title of his farewell statement is “In My Words: A Blessing” and he shares the blessings of his journey in hockey and his faith. What I want to briefly talk about is the flip side of Gary’s blessings and that is what a blessing it was to have Gary Steffes part of the Allen Americans family and the Allen community for the past three seasons. Here are Gary’s words:

I was four years old, bursting with energy.  My parents were looking for any reprieve to get some of it out, so they put me in hockey.  I fell in love right away.  What do you call that?  A blessing.

At seven, I got the opportunity to try out for the well-known and well-respected HoneyBaked Hockey Organization.  I ended up playing my entire youth hockey years between them and the equally as competitive Detroit Little Caesars. What do you call that? A blessing.

At seventeen, a door opened up to play for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. For two years, I got to develop under Mark Carlson and be part of winning the Clark Cup in 2005. What do you call that? A blessing.

Then, at nineteen, Miami University.  How incredible those years were! To be able to attend such a prestigious University, join the Miami Hockey Brotherhood, and experience the success we had makes me grateful beyond words. We made the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, the Frozen Four twice, and played in the National Championship game in 2009.  Truly it was a blessing, an absolute blessing.

Finally, to be able to play professional hockey as a career, what an absolute blessing! Getting to spend three years in Tulsa, one in Bakersfield, and three more in Allen, with call-ups to Lake Erie, Milwaukee and San Jose along the way, was incredibly special.  Every city, every game, every point, every fan I’ve met along the way who has welcomed me with open arms. What a blessing!

When I look back at everything that’s happened over the course of my hockey career, sometimes I don’t believe it myself.  It is especially true when I think about my first year in Allen. Coach Martinson gave me a tremendous opportunity to develop and succeed.  48 goals later, it was a season unlike any I had ever had; my scoring was more than double what I had scored in any other single season in my career.

I also got to live my dream of playing the AHL again. Prior to the season though, my dream of going back to the AHL had been greatly shaken.  On the heels of a tough year in Bakersfield and no call-up opportunities, along with my increasing age, I was not sure it would ever be possible again. I put my trust in the Lord and knew that if it was in God’s plan for me to make it back to the AHL, I would.  By God’s grace, I risked it again, in faith, that year in Allen.  I played with hope and never gave up. Sure enough, after practice one day in early March, Coach Martinson called me in and informed me I was going to Milwaukee of the AHL.  It was a dream come true and a sure blessing from the Lord.  I had never talked to anyone in the Milwaukee organization prior to that day.

When I re-joined the Americans after my stint in Milwaukee, the rest of the season was a fairytale. We went on to win the Kelly Cup—it was my first championship in professional hockey.  It was crazy, unbelievable, exciting, amazing. It was a blessing.

As you can see, the Lord has blessed me in so many ways and continues to do so. Among all the blessings that have come via my career in hockey, has been the opportunity to work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA is a non-denominational Christian Ministry aiming to serve, influence, and impact coaches and athletes all over the world for Jesus Christ.  Shortly after God grabbed my life in 2009, FCA Hockey became a huge part of my life. For the past six years, I have been beyond blessed to work with them full-time in the summer and then go play hockey in the fall.  As my last season ended, I realized I was ready for FCA Hockey to take on an even bigger role in my life. I really sought the Lord and prayed over the decision.  After a long and emotional wrestle, I am confident that now is the time for me to retire from professional hockey.

It seems weird to even read that back….I am retiring from professional hockey.

Moving forward into the next season of life, I will be working as the Campus Director for FCA Hockey. Connecting with professional, college, and junior hockey players all over the world will be one of my primary focuses. I am really looking forward to developing relationships with these men, helping them in their careers, and empowering them in their walk with Jesus Christ. On top of these relationships, I will be seeking to help expand FCA Hockey’s ministry, so that it becomes even greater.  What can I say about such an opportunity to help impact athletes, coaches, and families around the world for Jesus Christ?  It is such a blessing. I am honored and grateful.

It’s going to be tough—when anybody retires, it always is. I will enjoy not having some of the extreme pressures on me that hockey players usually do. I am looking forward to a little bit of stability – I might actually live in the same place for an entire year, so that’s pretty cool.  I am excited to take on the new responsibility in my job. I know it will be hard this fall when I am not going to camp with my teammates. I will miss the community of guys a ton.  And I am definitely going to miss the games!  How awesome is it that your job is to go and play a hockey game and compete?  I am really going to miss that.

And of course, the fans. Every community I have had the privilege to play in has been absolutely amazing and embraced me with open arms.  I am incredibly grateful for the time I have played professional hockey, and all the places I have played.  I pray blessings a hundred fold upon everybody, for all of the opportunities I have been able to be a part of, and all the organizations that took a chance on me.  The Americans organization has given me the tremendous honor of holding a night to celebrate my career.  I am looking forward to seeing so many family, friends, and fans that night who have helped contribute to my success in hockey. Thank you to all of you!  It has been an honor.  It has been a blessing.

– I was first introduced to Gary when he was signed by Steve Martinson in August, 2014. I was doing some research for a player profile story about Gary and came across a YouTube video of a speech Gary gave when he was playing in Bakersfield. He was the keynote speaker at the 34th Annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast where hundreds gather to pray for the community leaders. I have posted this video in the past but encourage you to watch all 17 minutes as it tells you all you need to know about Gary Steffes. At the 11:30 mark of the speech Gary answers the question he gets so often which is how as a follower of Christ he can you play hockey, a game which is so violent. Even if you have watched this video in the past take another look and you will find it even more inspiring.

– Gary Steffes holds the single season goal scoring record for the Allen Americans at 44 which he set in 2014-15 on the way to a Kelly Cup championship. What you may not remember is he was scoring at a pace that he would have finished the season with 50 goals but on March 25 of that season he was loaned to the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) for the last nine games of the season. Between the regular season and playoffs with Allen and his stint in the AHL Gary finished the 2014-15 season scoring a total of 61 goals. He also led the ECHL in goals scored that season.

– What set Gary apart as a player? From my vantage point there were a couple of traits that standout. I can say unequivocally he is the hardest working player ever to put on an Allen Americans jersey. He worked at practice just like it was a game, all out all of the time. He is the only player in my time covering the team where teammates questioned whether he was wearing himself down by too much practice. He always took extra practice after the official practice was over. His ability to finish and score goals around the net is something he practiced everyday. When Allen got a skating coach (Luke Chilcott) Gary would spend time with Luke before and after practice trying to improve his skating. Truly a work ethic beyond reproach.

– The Allen Americans were so fortunate to have a player like Gary represent the team with fans and in the community. Whether it was in a formal setting such as his talks after Faith & Family night games, interacting with young fans or chatting with folks one on one he was outstanding. A positive attitude type of guy who always saw the glass half full.

– Unlike many players Gary has had a plan in place for his post playing career for some time with his work with FCA. The FCA organization was founded in 1954 but FCA Hockey was not established until 2008. Gary has been involved since 2011 and will now devote fulltime time to this faith based organization. He has recently moved to Alexandria, Minnesota where this ministry is headquartered. Alexandria is a tourism center located among many lakes and resorts in west-central Minnesota.

– I had a chance to speak with Gary about how his transition was going and as you might imagine he was upbeat and enthusiastic but admitted he will miss the atmosphere of his playing days. There is a lot of exciting things happening with FCA Hockey including building a new rink in Alexandria for which they are about to break ground. Gary will spend  most of the winter in Alexandria and will travel extensively in the summer. When I asked Gary what activities he might pursue now that he is not playing he acknowledged there would be more time for interests such as the guitar, cooking, finishing a book he has been writing, fishing (he is living in the middle of great fishing) and he might even play some senior hockey for fun.

– I am sure all Allen fans wish Gary the best of luck as he moves on in his life. He is a great role model for all of the youth and coaches he comes in contact with. He talked above about all of his blessings. Allen was blessed to have him as part of the team and community for the past three seasons. Everyone will have the chance to say a final farewell when Gary is honored by the team on November 4th before the Americans play the Wichita Thunder. Fittingly it is Faith and Family night.

– Here are a few of the many sides of Gary Steffes in pictures. Photos courtesy of Dianne Webster and Kimberly Sauer:

Giving thanks
The sniper
The warrior
Quick hands around the net

DID YOU KNOW: In the eight year history of the Allen Americans franchise a player has scored more than 30 goals eight times led by Gary Steffes with 44 goals in 2014-15. Here are the eight 30 goals scorers in Allen history.

44 – Gary Steffes (2014-15)
41 – Chad Costello (2014-15)
35 – Greger Hanson (2016-17)
34 – Bruce Graham (2010-11)
34 – Nino Musitelli (2010-11)
33 – Chad Costello (2016-17)
33 – Colton Yellow Horn (2010-11)
31 – Bruce Graham (2009-10)

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