Christianity in Hockey sounds like an oxymoron. The idea of a 6 foot man knocking people down the ice while professing Jesus Christ as lord and savior doesn't seem to click in the heads of every NHL fan. Yet one prominent hockey star has been vocal about his faith and could possibly lead Canada as the captain of Canada Hocky Olympic Team (Team Canada).
Eric Staal, center for the Carolina Hurricanes, has made headlines in the NHL ever since he was selected second overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft. During his team's 2006 playoff run, Staal, then-21 years old, contributed a team-leading 28 points to help his team take the grand prize. Since then he has been selected to four All-star appearances, was awarded All-Star MVP in 2008 edition, and won a gold medal with Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In the NHL, there is a tradition that whenever a team wins the Stanley Cup, each player gets to spend a day with the trophy. In 2006, instead of filling the cup with beer, flashing the trophy at a club, or filling it up with gravy and eating fries off it, Staal towed the giant trophy to his church, Christian Reformed Church, in Thunder Bay, Ontario for the congregation to see.
Staal was raised in a Christian household by his father, Henry Staal, who was a sod farmer. When Staal was a kid, his father built an outdoor hockey rink complete with boards and lights so that his sons could play hockey. Staal and his brothers played endless pickup games with friends and family.
"We were out there all the time," Eric told the Associated Press this summer. "It wasn't something we did to try to make the NHL. It was something we did because we enjoyed it, we had fun."
Although Staal and his brothers only played hockey for the sake of entertainment, their passion for the game extended to joining junior hockey leagues and eventually the NHL.
Faith played a crucial role in the family, as Staal's mother, Linda, made the boys read their devotionals before going to bed. When Staal was 15, he had to move out his household to begin his career in junior hockey. In order to be kept accountable in his faith, Staal joined a chapel program where he bonded with other Christian athletes and studied the word of God. Now Staal is an avid supporter of Hockey Ministries International, which provides chapel programs for NHL teams.
"You're on the road so much and even when you're home, a lot of nights are taken up with games and practices," Staal told the Salvationist. "It's great to be able to sit down after a practice with a couple of guys from the team and our chapel leader, and have some time to study the Bible."
While Staal is looking forward to leading Canada to their second consecutive gold medal at Sochi, he remains mindful of what's most important in his life.
"My faith is a major thing in my life," he told The Banner. "It helps me stay focused on what's really important: God and my family."