Thu Jun 12 12:59pm EDT
There are always going to be divisions in a professional hockey locker room. Typically, they're influenced by nationality or generational gaps between teammates. When it comes to issues like politics or religion, the players I've interviewed have given me the impression that it's less "don't ask, don't tell" than "you do your thing, I'll do mine, now let's go out there and try to make the playoffs."
The NHL certainly doesn't have the unashamed outpourings of religious expression that NFL players bring to the field; the Red Wings were too busy worshiping another Lord to pile into a prayer circle at center ice last week.
I imagine that's what Paul Henderson was getting at in his revealing interview about faith with The Advertiser of Newfoundland. Henderson played for the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Flames during his NHL career, but he's a legend in Canada for scoring the game-winning goal in each of the 1972 Summit Series' final three games, leading Canada over the Soviet Union. He was approached by someone after that series who planted the seeds for Henderson's eventual religious awakening three years later. An active member in the Christian community, he addressed faith and the NHL in the article:
Henderson believes religion holds a big part in the sporting world, but admits hockey seems to be the least influenced by the Christian faith. Nonetheless, many high profile players are Christians, including Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic and Mike Fisher.
Regardless of a person's spiritual beliefs, Henderson doesn't judge anybody and respects their individual choices. "The wonderful thing about this country is that you have a choice - you can do whatever you want to do," he said. "People make choices, so I have a lot of respect for people who don't have faith whatsoever - that's the way they've chosen to go ... I'll tell them I'm a Christian, why I'm a Christian and the results of it. If you want to take a look at it, fabulous. If you don't, we'll go watch some whales."
It's a facet of many NHL players that either goes underpublicized or unnoticed. The question is whether the League is missing a chance to reach a new audience here. And not just in a "Jesus Saves, Gretzky Scores on the Rebound" kind of way.
There dozens of players with a story to tell. When Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes was a young man, his father would have him memorize Bible verses, which helped influence Doan's decision to ignore "the fleeting pleasures of sin" in his life.
Former New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers goalie Bob Froese claims he "sold out for Christ" after the death of Pelle Lindbergh. Former and current players like John Blue, Adam Burt, Curtis Brown and Brian Pothier were involved in the same Christian ministry.
As Henderson mentioned, Iginla is one of the most prominent Christians in the NHL. As I've pointed out in the past, the Calgary Flames star has also been completely mis-marketed by the League when it comes to attracting a more diverse fan base.
Excuse the cynicism -- it's the Jersey in me -- but should players like Iginla and Sakic be used to tap into the same Christian demographics that Hollywood has been openly courting?
Or is religion too personal to even attempt to broach the subject with players of strong faith?