It's certainly not the typical career for a former NHL hockey player, but Adam Burt couldn't be happier.
Working from his home base in Austin, Texas, with a sports ministry called Champions for Christ, the former Atlanta Thrashers defenseman is finding joy sharing his faith in Christ with other professional hockey players.
Born in Detroit in 1966, Burt learned to skate at the Olympia arena, where his dad worked and hockey legend Gordie Howe played most of his career.
At age 11 Burt's mother took him to a church service which made a huge impact on him. "I thought I did enough good things (to get into heaven)," says Burt. "I realized when I was presented with the Word of God, that we all fall short." Recognizing his need to receive God's forgiveness, Burt says "It was there that I asked Jesus into my heart."
Although he had accepted Christ as his Saviour Burt put limitations on his Christian commitment. "I wasn't ready to give [Christ] all of me yet. I still wanted to do my own things."
Five years later Burt moved to North Bay, Ontario to play junior hockey. Living on his own at age 16, he found himself faced with an inner struggle. "It was a back and forth tug-of-war ... Am I going to live for God? Or am I going to live for myself?"
The 1987 NHL draft - where Burt was slated to go early in the first round - was held in his hometown of Detroit. Surprisingly, Burt wasn't chosen until the second round, 39th overall. "I felt like a complete failure," admits Burt.
After the disappointment, Burt made the decision to go "100 per cent for God."
Drafted by the Hartford Whalers, Burt quickly established himself as a consistent stay-at-home defenseman. He stuck with the organization until 1998 when he was traded to Philadelphia, where he played two seasons with the Flyers, before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for his final season in the NHL.
Married in 1989, the father of two credits God for a work ethic that helped secure his place in the NHL. "[God] taught me how to practice," explains Burt. He quotes Colossians 3:23 - "'Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto man.' Even when my coach wasn't looking at me I was busting hard and not just going through the motions, because God was watching me."
Burt also found that his view of the Bible had changed, becoming "a handbook for living," the 36-year-old states. "All these kinds of things are what I think allowed me to stay in the NHL for 14 years."
Burt is now busting hard for Champions for Christ, a ministry founded in the mid-80s which reaches out to professional and college athletes. Although it has a strong presence established in other sports, Champions is just beginning to make an impact in hockey, under the leadership of former NHL goaltender John Blue.
Blue, a Christian since he was a youngster, met Champions for Christ founder Greg Ball in 1991. Shortly thereafter Ball challenged Blue's Christian commitment. Blue, who played for Boston and Buffalo in the NHL, remembers thinking, "Who does this guy think he is?"
He now admits that Ball was right - he was living like a hypocrite.
Blue's strengthened commitment and passion for Christ caught the attention of Curtis Brown, while both men were playing in the minors in Rochester.
Brown grew up in Saskatchewan, where he says hockey is a religion. He left home at 15 to play for the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors. There the youth ran into trouble. "As long as you didn't break the team rules there were no rules," he comments. "As a 15 year old you're making decisions that most people don't have to make until they go off to college at 20."
Brown noticed that Blue was different from other players. "There was something appealing - he had this peace around him that I'd never seen before," says Brown.
The two became good friends and Blue led Brown through a Bible study. There Brown discovered that he wasn't living a life pleasing to God, and because of his sin, says learned he "was destined to be separated from God." Fortunately, Brown also learned that God had sent His Son Jesus to make a way for him to be forgiven and enter into a personal relationship with Him. As a result, the Buffalo Sabres centre asked God to forgive the life he had lived and invited Jesus into his heart.
Blue calls to pray with Brown before each game and meets with him regularly for Bible study. He describes the 26-year-old's commitment to Christ as "fantastic."
Blue, who's 36, also provides support for other Christian players, including defenseman Brian Pothier of the Ottawa Senators organization.
Pothier became a Christian at a Bible study during his teen years. He appreciates the support Champions provides to players like himself who can't attend a local church due to traveling so much. Pothier speaks on the phone with Blue weekly and both Blue and Burt regularly fly to meet with him and his wife, Gwen.
Pothier first met Burt at an Atlanta Thrashers training camp, while Burt was recovering from an injury. "You could see the joy, peace, and happiness," says Pothier of Burt.
Although Pothier has had a tough time cracking Ottawa's strong defense core - he's currently playing in Binghamton - his faith in Christ keeps him from becoming frustrated. "I know God has a purpose for my life," he explains simply. "God's preparing me for something. My wife and I are really excited about that."
Blue says that while there's the perception that professional athletes have reached the pinnacle of what some people dream of, many players are hurting. "They're making millions of dollars, they have beautiful families, yet they're out there getting drugs, or getting drunk every night, or cheating on their wives," says Blue. "Why? Because it's not enough.
"The answers aren't in winning the Stanley Cup," he continues, "Ultimately, that is not what is going to satisfy these men."
Burt agrees, "They're looking to fill voids in their lives ... that only [Christ] can fill."
Brown knows the feeling well. After achieving his dream of making the NHL, he says, "I looked around and something was missing. So many people chase material things or chase careers ... without God there will still be that emptiness."
Like Brown, Pothier is thankful for Christ's incredible sacrifice. "[Jesus] was born in a manger, suffered through His time on earth, was tortured, beaten, bruised and crucified for me," he says, "It's spectacular to think about that."
Adds Brown, "[Hockey] is nothing in comparison to a relationship with God."
Meanwhile, after a stellar NHL career on the ice, Burt's new role with Champions for Christ is bringing him great satisfaction.
"I really feel like my whole life has been gearing up to this point," says Burt. "I want people to know that Jesus is alive and well. He's got a great plan for their life, a destiny, a calling."
Thanks to John Blue and Adam Burt, North American hockey players are finding that out.
Fourteen-year NHL veteran Laurie Boschman still hangs out at rinks across North America. He's now in ministry, working for Hockey Ministries International. Founded 1977, HMI's goal is to spread the message of hope found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Working in all levels of hockey, HMI provides support through hockey camps, conferences, clinics, and chapels.
Boschman knows the values of these chapels. While playing with the Leafs, fellow teammate Ron Ellis invited him to a chapel meeting. Curious about what gave Ellis such peace through the game's ups and downs, Boschman went. It was there Boschman realized his need for a Saviour and asked Jesus into his heart. Since then his life has changed for the better.
Boschman is encouraged by the NHL's response to the chapel program. "The NHL is aware of the program and has endorsed it on a team by team basis," says Boschman. "About one third of the teams are operating some sort of program."
Chapels typically include a 15-20 minute talk on topics relevant to players. Boschman says they focus on "what the Bible says and how we can apply it to our lives." These gatherings take place in hotel rooms or even outside locker rooms - whatever is available.
Boschman says NHL players struggle with the same issues everyone else does, but there's also the pressure to perform, and the uncertainty of their careers, to deal with. "[NHL players] have what everyone aspires to have - money, fame, notoriety," he notes, "but many find things still lacking."
The former NHLer hopes the chapel program will help players find what's lacking, just as he did many years ago.
by Jennifer Jacoby-Smith
The 1985 Stanley Cup Finals saw the Philadelphia Flyers face the Edmonton Oilers, the returning champion. The Flyers won the first game. But Philadelphia goaltender Bob Froese recalls, "We weren't allowed to touch the puck for the next four!" as the Oilers walked away with another Cup.
Froese had to face the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri, but it was Mark Messier who gave him the most grief.
"Messier more had my number. Gretzky I don't think scored as many goals on me as probably Messier did."
Drafted in 1978 by Buffalo, Froese later signed as a free agent with Philadelphia. His NHL career began in the 1982-83 season with an outstanding 12 consecutive wins.
He played seven seasons with the Flyers before being traded to the New York Rangers. In 1986 he won the William Jennings Award for the NHL's lowest goals against average and appeared in the 1985-86 All-Star Game.
Froese started that season as backup to Vezina trophy winner Pelle Lindbergh, 26, of Sweden. The Flyers were among the top teams at the time and testing showed that they were in the best physical shape of NHL teams that season. Froese notes, "We all thought we were superhuman with an 'S' on our chest."
That attitude changed one Sunday in November when Froese received a phone call. Teammate Dave Poulin's wife was on the phone, near hysteria. Urging him to get the hospital quickly, she mentioned only that Lindbergh's legs were broken when his Porsche slammed into a cement wall. Not realizing how bad things were, Froese admits that while driving to the hospital he thought about how his main competition for starting goalie was now out of the picture.
Dave Poulin met Froese at the hospital. Once in Froese's car Poulin bowed his head and said, "He's dead."
"I remember just a flood of guilt," says Froese. "I realized that this thing (hockey) that had been so important in my life wasn't exactly as important as I thought it was." As the team gathered to share their grief, Froese cried on the shoulder of GM Bobby Clarke.
Froese, 44, a Christian since personally accepting Christ as his Saviour at the age of 5, says after Lindbergh's death he "became sold out for Christ."
"It was a spiritual marker in my life," says Froese.
While wins and loses still mattered, Froese says, "I became more focused on how Christ could use me in the league." Although pro hockey is a cut-throat business where it's every man for himself, Froese poured his energy into preparing another young goalie - Mike Richter - to take his place.
An injury ended Froese's playing career in 1990. "I hurt my shoulder and they said 'you won't play again,'" he recalls. "I said, 'Hallelujah! Enough for me.'"
For the next five years the St. Catherines, Ontario native worked first as the goalie coach for the New York Rangers, then the New York Islanders. He and his wife - his high school sweetheart, Ruth - felt God's call to ministry. But after spending two summers overseas with Hockey Ministries International, Froese felt that God had something else in mind for him.
When his church asked him to take on the role of full-time youth pastor, he reluctantly agreed to pray about whether he should take the position or not. Even he was surprised when he sensed God's prompting to take it.
Froese now serves as senior pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Clarence, NY, 20 minutes east of Buffalo. He says while pastoring his church of about 300 is tougher than playing hockey, "Even on the bad days it's still better than anything I've ever done."
Froese feels his NHL career helped prepare him for the pulpit. "Leadership skills that are involved in the locker room are so much needed in the church," explains Froese, who enjoys shepherding others in their walk with Christ.
The death of a close friend and teammate forever changed Froese, causing him to live his life totally for God, on the ice and off.
"Pelle's death changed the way I view all of life, not just hockey," states Froese.
"We say sometimes in crisis, 'This is going to change me.' And we change for a short time," observes Froese, "but unless we really surrender our life to Christ, our life is not going to change. It might appear to for a while, but I've only ever seen Jesus Christ change people."
Bob Froese is one of those people - and he's grateful for that.