EDITOR’S NOTE: In the second of a three-part series, The Sin Bin’s Kristen Wooten looks at the role religion plays in the sport of hockey. In the first part, you will hear from several players — retired and current — about how they formed their relationship with Jesus Christ. In the second part, Wooten looks at how players incorporate religion into their lives away from the rink.
Although there isn’t a good, clear answer as to why faith is muted in hockey compared to other sports, many players believe the sports’ culture plays a significant role. As in, how hockey is structured versus other sports.
Tyler Wong, forward for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, believes:
“Other sports are more focused on the individual, guys like the spotlight, they’re very open about speaking, sharing things about themselves. The stereotype of hockey players in interviews is thanking their linemates, thanking their teammates. Hockey players are known for being quieter and less vocal than other sports such as football or basketball where faith is very prominent,” Wong said. “The biggest thing with hockey players is that we’re shaped in a way that coaches and everyone wants us; there’s more emphasis on the team. It’s not one individual, it’s 20 teammates that’ll come together to get a championship.”
Other players target the sport’s history and current reputation as a key reason as to why Christianity and hockey do not seem to coexist. A beloved skater for the Kansas City Mavericks, Bryce Aneloski, points to the bad boy party reputation, fights, and overall “macho bravado” stereotypes involved with hockey players.
Family & Church
Hard to imagine, but hockey players don’t live and breathe their sport twenty-four, seven. For many, they have families to go back to at the end of the day. Families that travel with them wherever hockey may take them, and supporting their loved one along every step of the journey.
Some players even have faith as the driving factor that has brought them together with their significant other. Aneloski met his fiancé during his time with the Mavericks, crediting their similar core values as part of their lasting bond noting that, “God needs to be at the center of relationships.”
For those who have been around the lifestyle for a while, they seem to have a system down. Jason Kasdorf, a goaltender for the Cincinnati Cyclones, describes the situation for he and his wife as, “Every time we go to a new city, one of the first things we do is we try to find a good church. Kind of just like a home base. Which is nice for my wife, so when I’m on the road or at hockey, then she’ll join bible studies and stuff like that. And it’s good for the kids because then they can meet up with other kids in the area, just from the bible study.”
A family man, the Cyclones goaltender is thankful for the God-centered relationship he has with his wife.
While on the road, “she’ll send me an encouraging verse about how God has a plan for me, and you know, if things are going good, then she’ll send me a verse about being humble, and stuff like that. We’re always sending each other verses and stuff like that.”
When home, they pray with their two children every night before bed, trying to incorporate their faith into their lives as much as they can.
Thiessen echoes Kasdorf’s sentiments of the benefits finding a home church for his family while he’s away, “It’s been great for my wife and my kids to have people away from hockey that you can have relationships with. My wife can have somewhere to go if we’re on the road, have friends, and things like that.”
Having played in several different places in his career, Thiessen’s most memorable experience in a new church occurred when he played in Finland.
“Trying to find a church there was pretty tough, but we ended up finding a church that was in Finnish, but they gave you headphones and there was someone in the back translating in English. So that was a pretty cool experience, and we had an English-speaking Bible study group there,” Thiessen said.
For athletes of all sports, keeping their families involved with the church is a way of bringing a sense of normalcy into at times very hectic lives.
In the final part of my series, I’ll look at ways players can express their faith on the ice and in the locker room.
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