For professional hockey playing brothers Eric and Jordan Staal, their faith runs much deeper than Sunday morning church services back in their hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. To these high-performance athletes, Christian faith is a way of maintaining and living out their “better halves”.
“Playing hockey and remaining strong in your faith can be difficult at times,” said Jordan Staal,—centerman for the Carolina Hurricanes. “With the job we have, it’s obviously a pretty demanding schedule, and there definitely isn’t a ‘Sunday morning church service’ every week for me. However, I always try to make the most of the opportunities I get here in Raleigh.”
For the younger of the Staal siblings, participating in team chapels is one of the ways that Jordan is able to maintain his mental and spiritual health.
“If routine is important to your health, then routinely reading the Bible and attending chapels is extremely important to your health,” Jordan said. “We have a chaplain here in Raleigh and we get together a fair amount. Obviously whenever we do get the time off on Sundays we will get a chance to go out to church. But it’s a lot more on yourself to get out to these kinds of things throughout the season.”
“Hockey was my identity. Sure, it pushed me to be the player I was, but it still left me empty. I made the NHL and won that Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, fulfilling all the dreams I could ever think of, but I remember waking up a week later and realizing, ‘that’s it?’”
Eric and Jordan grew up in Thunder Bay under the watchful eye of parents Henry and Linda. Alongside the two former Stanley Cup champions are brothers, Marc (New York Rangers) and Jared (Edinburgh Capitals). Raising four hockey-playing boys may not have been the easiest of situations for Henry and Linda, but undoubtedly a memorable experience nonetheless.
Teenage lifestyles consisting of hockey, church and education provided countless opportunities for the brothers to develop their physical, spiritual and mental health. It’s safe to say that the four young men are more than grateful for that upbringing.
“To this day I still don’t know how my parents did it,” Jordan said. “Fortunately we had a lot of help from friends, and a lot of people helped us out shuttling kids to and from practice. My parents obviously did an unbelievable job of giving us the opportunity to play all the hockey we could. As I grew up I knew it wasn’t all just hockey though; I knew that we had to make time for God and our relationship with him. My parents did a great job of instilling that in us and letting us know that whether it’s hockey or in anything else in life, it’s easy to say that you’re busy, but it’s very important to make time for God.”
For older brother Eric, finding time for God was much easier as he was blessed to have a chaplain on his junior hockey team in Peterborough. That chaplain introduced Eric and the rest of his teammates to Hockey Ministries International, and helped set the wheels in motion for regular prayer time with teammates.
“Any time you move away from home—especially at a young age—you just never know what to expect,” Staal said. “I was only 15 when I first played for the Petes, but was fortunate enough to get involved with the chapel program there which set me on my way. Obviously nowadays our schedules are pretty jam-packed. My wife and I do enjoy getting together with others outside of church for small group studies or reading sessions, but sometimes that doesn’t work out with me having games and practices nearly every day. So just sitting down with some teammates and the chapel leader is another great alternative if I can’t make it out to church back home.”
With morning skates, team workouts, yoga sessions, practices, road trips, games, skills competitions, all-star games and Olympics on his platter, hockey has certainly taken up a lot of Eric’s time. But through it all, he has remained grounded in his faith, serving as an example to his younger teammates and brothers.
“Hockey season is always a busy time—it’s a long year and sometimes it’s tough to find that study time, but when I do it’s always great and refreshing,” he said. “It’s a chance to try to live our lives for God and show our fans and teammates that there are better things up above. It just becomes a way of life after enough time.”
The idea of healthy living also becomes a way of life anytime one finds oneself surrounded by a professional sporting team. Protein recovery shakes are ever-present; meat and vegetable platters are nearly impossible to miss, while exercise equipment is never further than an arm’s length away.
Healthy Christian living also comes in many forms and is experienced in countless ways. In an interview with Hockey Ministries International, Jordan Staal revealed the moment in which he experienced that feeling of wanting to serve a greater purpose.
“Hockey was my identity,” he reflected. “Sure, it pushed me to be the player I was, but it still left me empty. I made the NHL and won that Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, fulfilling all the dreams I could ever think of, but I remember waking up a week later and realizing, ‘that’s it?’”
“We are all trying to fill that certain hole,” he says, adding no matter how hard you search, only God can fill that void, “and that’s definitely something that I’ve tried to nurture by filling it with Jesus. Hockey is an unbelievable sport and something that has obviously been a big part of my life, but it’s not all me; it’s not something I live for. I live for God, and hockey is definitely something that I want to give God the glory for.”