As the National Hockey League regular season winds to an end, there is more to follow than the playoff races.
For one thing, we can track how the league’s Catholic players are performing, as well as watching out for the team recently referred to as the NHL’s Most Catholic Team.
Public discussions of faith by NHL players are rare compared to other North American sports, but it has been increasing in recent years.
After requests by players, a number of teams have brought a Christian chaplain on board through Hockey Ministries International. Former Vancouver Canuck Markus Naslund, whose father was a Protestant minister, and Shane Doan, a strong Christian who played all his two-decade career with a single franchise, both reflected that late in their careers they saw a move toward team discussions of faith.
The Anaheim Ducks even marketed one game as “Catholic Night at Honda Center” this season. It was in conjunction with Southern California’s Trinity Catholic high school hockey league, and it was great to see.
At some point it would be great if every team offered Catholic Mass for its players, and I believe that time will come soon.
The Vancouver Canucks have had a few devout, practising Catholics in their lineup over the years, including Trent Klatt, Marc Crawford, and Trevor Linden, not to mention anthem singers Lawrence Donnelly and Marie Hui. But the team with the most significant Catholic influence until lately has been the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Blue Jackets defenceman Adam McQuaid has been up front about his faith for years. Earlier in his career the Boston Globe wrote a story about him in which he spoke about the role and importance his faith played in his life.
His Blue Jackets teammate, hardworking forward Nick Foligno, has also talked about the importance of his Catholic faith in helping him after the death of his mother when young, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is known to keep icons of the Virgin Mary in his locker.
In 2019, however, the “Most Catholic Team” title has moved south, to Nashville.
The composition of the Nashville Predators management team has a rich Catholic flavour. In a recent article in America magazine, the Predators revealed genuine Catholic influence at every level of the organization. Since they’ll likely be making a deep run in the playoffs, we’ll get lots of time to watch them.
The owner, the president, the executive vice president, and the head of TV broadcasting are all Catholic. Forward Kyle Turris is a Catholic who graduated from St. Thomas More in Burnaby, and they have a vocal Catholic prospect in Mark van Guilder, who plays pro hockey in Switzerland.
Faith among the administration is very important since NHL management over the years has often been seen as a stumbling block to letting players express their faith in the locker room.
One of the main manifestations of Catholicity in action in Nashville is the team outreach and community work, often involving Catholic organizations. The Predators coordinate projects with various groups including the Knights of Columbus, supporting events such as parish fish fries and the diocesan seminary dinner.
Sean Henry, the president and CEO of the Preds, grew up as an altar server in New York and has “the Catholic vision that makes the team unique,” writes America magazine.
He sees the significance in serving others, as we all must do. “The best way to engage is to help other people,” Henry said.
Everybody in the organization is asked to donate 40 hours of service time, and the Preds’ Hearts of Gold program saw some 6,000 hours of service by staff and players in projects ranging from eliminating violence against women to connecting youth with law enforcement officers.
Henry says his approach is “inspired by the ministry of engagement preached and practised by Pope Francis.”
When looking at athletes showing their faith, we often look at their practising of the sacraments and their support for Church moral teachings, but displays of service motivated by faith is also beautiful to see.
There is something to be learned by all sports organizations – professional or amateur – by looking at the Preds’ service model. We should be encouraging the players under our supervision to do work together with teammates on service projects that are close to their hearts. Athletes’ examples of service can help inspire others to live their faith outside the walls of the Church in real-life scenarios.
Well done, Nashville, and good luck in the playoffs.
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