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Monday, July 14, 2014

Laurie Boschman and The Legacy of Faith In The NHL

I’m told that Laurie Boschman is a distant relative of mine. That, however, is not why I am writing about him here.  In a sports league that is much more reserved than its peers, Laurie Boschman has played a significant role in blazing a trail for Christians in the National Hockey League.

Whether it’s that vocally reserved culture of most hockey players, a possible frowning upon of outspoken faith in the league or just a more secular media coverage in Canada than we are used to in the U.S., you don’t hear too much about an athlete’s personal faith in the NHL. The “PDF” ( Public Display of Faith) is a bit more rare in the good ol’ hockey game.

That’s not always a bad thing – it is, of course, far better to walk the walk than merely talk the talk. But as I have begun to research this topic of Christianity in the NHL (both now and in the past) I have discovered a real legacy of faith amongst some of its most popular players.

I’ve discovered that Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, inventor of the “slap shot” and winner of 6 Stanley cups with the Canadiens, wrote these words at the end of his autobiography:  “Once upon a time I used to believe that hockey was everything. It isn't. God and family come first. Being happy with the Lord and my family is a lot better than winning 500 Stanley Cups! When you are flat on your back the only place to look is up-to God.”

Bernie "Boom Boom" Geffrion Photo Credit:

I’ve discovered that Paul Henderson, scorer of perhaps the most famous hockey goal in Canadian history, found his faith in Jesus Christ through a friend who told him he “hadn’t  (yet) taken care of his soul”. After all the glory days Paul says he still felt bitter, angry and discontent and that, after a long struggle with his pride and fears, he said he finally: “…gave my life to the Lord”.

I’ve discovered that Mike Gartner, one of the game’s best right wingers and member of the 700 goal club, was led to Jesus by none other than Jean Pronovost.  Pronovost  (who himself was led to faith  by Atlanta Flames defenseman Ed Kea and his wife) mentored Gartner in the position and  also invited him to Bible studies at his home. Later, on a flight between games, Gartner recalls that Jean asked him a very direct question  “Mike, if this plane goes down, do you know where you will spend eternity?”  In the book,  “Toward the Goal” , Gartner tells of his personal experience with Jesus Christ when “In the quietness of my hotel room, I got on my knees and said : ‘ Lord, if You are real, come into my life now and change me.”  

But now back to Laurie Boschman. His story from top draft pick of the famed Maple Leafs, to being in the club’s doghouse , then back to resuming a successful NHL career and now to current chaplain of the Ottawa Senators and member of Hockey Ministries International is inspiring.

Boschman was born and raised in Saskatchewan and later moved to Manitoba where he played for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. He played 14 seasons in the NHL for the Leafs, Oilers, Jets, Devils and finally, in 1992 , the expansion Ottawa Senators where he became the first captain in team history.  

It was in Toronto though where he had two profound encounters. The first and most important was meeting and getting to know the Leaf’s forward Ron Ellis. He respected the way Ellis carried himself on and off the ice and finally asked him “What makes you tick?” . Ellis went on to explain his relationship with Christ and the guidance he found in the Bible. Not long after, Boschman prayed with Ellis, believing and receiving the Gospel.  Similar to the fears of Paul Henderson before him, Laurie said to Ellis as he was leaving “Just don’t tell the other players, OK?”.

The second was much more a trial than a joy. The infamous Harold Ballard was the owner of the Maple Leafs at that time and , like a number of other players, Boschman had his run ins with him. After a poor game at Madison Square Gardens verses the Rangers, Ballard singled him out for his “soft” play – but what’s more he blamed it precisely on his new found Christian faith.

“He said I had too much religion, and that he was going to trade me or send me down to the minors,” says Boschman in a Calgary Herald article.

Some would say that a perceived image of the Christian hockey player as being “soft” started right  then and there. But this image is not held by all. Mike Gartner said that his conversion made him more motivated than ever. “I played to glorify God and I played my best. I felt responsible to God to use the talents and abilities He had given me.”

In the same Calgary Herald article, former NHL’er and now ESPN Analyst Barry Melrose says:  “A lot of people in the hockey world feel you can’t be a big tough physical hockey player and be a Christian, but my history of being around Christians is totally opposite. They’re some of the most fierce competitors there are in the world.”

Boschman’s stats speak for themselves though as he is one of only 16 players to have scored 500 points and amassed over 2,000 penalty minutes in a career.

Since retirement in 1992, Laurie has suffered the loss of his first wife of 21 years to cancer. Of this tragic event he says:  “The reason I was able to survive the days, months and years after I got the news that somebody I loved very deeply had been diagnosed with cancer was my faith. That’s the foundation. Faith in Christ is the foundation for any relationship and for anything that happens inside that relationship. Faith doesn’t take away the tears and the sadness, but it gives us hope and provides us with a foundation to keep on going.”

Boschman is now happily re-married with a blended family and is not only the chaplain for the Ottawa Senators, but the coordinator for all the team chaplaincies in the NHL. In regards to his work (which is in accordance with his role with the faith organization Hockey Ministries International) he states: “We’re pretty low-key about how we go about the business of faith in hockey,” says Boschman. “We understand that some people still have pre-conceived notions. The bottom line is that the chapel program is player-driven, and the teams who have chapel and who offer it to their players have benefited greatly.”

I was recently talking to one of my pastors (who just happens to be American) and we were discussing the difference in openly Christian players between the NHL and the other three major North American leagues. He said that he believed one of the biggest reasons was team chaplains or rather the historic lack of them in hockey. If this is true then Hockey Ministries International and Laurie Boschman are on to something.

As it stands today there are a growing number of openly Christian players in the NHL including Jarome Iginla, Mike Fisher, Shane Doan, Eric Staal, Ryan Smyth, David Booth, Matt Duchene and Dan Hamhuis to name a few. They are respected players who don’t just talk the talk but also walk the walk.

Its been often said that hockey is religion in Canada. If that is indeed the case, then perhaps it will be through the legacy of these players, past and present, that other lovers of the great game may just find their way from the religion of the rink to the gospel of the Cross.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath (crown), but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 (ESV)

You may also like:


Bernie Boom Boom Geoffrion :

Paul Henderson

Mike Gartner:  “Toward the Goal” by Cathy Ellis

Laurie Boschman: Calgary Herald article: 


More Info on Christians in the NHL:;postID=1698163683768725397;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=2;src=postname

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