Athletes and their families have a bond unknown to those outside the sporting realm. They're a team. A unit. They play together, practice together, travel together.
From youth sports to professional sports, players share hectic schedules that can leave them booked for months in advance, leaving little, if any, time to fulfill their spiritual needs.
Jon and Cylinda Ring are experiencing these time restraints because of their son, Colby's, participation in Brainerd's Pee Wee hockey league.
"We travel a lot, stay in hotels and have no time to go to church on Sunday mornings," Jon Ring said.
Glenn "Chico" Resch, a family friend of the Rings and former Stanley Cup winning goalie from Brainerd, ran into the same predicament years ago, at the peak of his National Hockey League career.
I knew I couldnt have been put on this earth just to stop hockey pucks. Ive been given this incredible opportunity to be a professional athlete and I want to use that to inspire people.
Glenn Chico Resch
In 1980, Resch got involved with Hockey Ministries International and it changed his life forever. HMI is a program for players and coaches at all levels of the sport, giving them opportunities to develop their faith while on the road with their team.
"I knew I couldn't have been put on this earth just to stop hockey pucks," Resch said in a phone interview from Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. "I've been given this incredible opportunity to be a professional athlete and I want to use that to inspire people."
Currently a color commentator for Fox Sports New York, covering the New Jersey Devils, Resch's faith still depends on HMI. In the off-season Resch travels to the Czech Republic to help at HMI's hockey camp.
"(HMI) reaches out to players from pond hockey to the pros, all over the world," said Mark Bendell, regional director of HMI Minnesota.
After speaking with Resch about HMI, Jon Ring was compelled to join the program and start a ministry for the players and parents on his son's team. While the Brainerd ministry is in its infancy, Resch said HMI is growing in U.S. youth hockey programs and is succeeding in Canada.
Recently Bendell and Bill Butters, former NHL player currently working for HMI, attended a Pee Wee hockey tournament in Brainerd. Following the round of games, Bendell and Butters prayed and shared inspirational stories with players and their families. Butters also led a checking camp for the players. Bendell said HMI tries to get a well-known player to speak at hockey camps and tournaments.
"Players with personal faith are good models for the kids," Bendell said.
Using volunteer chaplains, Bendell said, chapel programs are common for teams at higher playing levels, such as professional or collegiate hockey leagues.
"Ten to 12 teams out of 30 in the NHL have chaplains," Bendell said. "Even if there is just one guy on the team (interested in HMI), we'll stay in touch with him."
Players and coaches wishing to attend the chapel time meet at restaurants, lounges, or even in the locker rooms before or after road games.
"When you're on the road (nine months out of the year) you can't go to church with your family every week," Bendell said.
Hockey players are often known for their aggressive behavior on the ice. Fighting and swearing isn't exactly Christian behavior, but it's almost expected to occur after the puck drops. Bendell said HMI tries to teach players "they can be an aggressive, elite hockey player, but they don't have to relinquish their faith to do so."
With a winning team and a rising career, Resch said after he won his first Stanley Cup it was difficult to see around the fame, money and notoriety.
"But it all comes to an end," he said.
A losing streak. An injury. Retirement. Resch said along with the highs come the lows and it's in those low times that HMI's presence is needed the most.
"Hockey gave me my wife (Diane), a Stanley Cup, a great living, great experiences, but it also gave me my faith," he said.
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