Marriage on Ice

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The National Hockey League is getting ready to swing back into action during the month of September and that means Hockey Ministries International will be getting ready for another busy season especially given how many players are signing with new hockey teams. HMI provides a chapel ministry to hockey players and their families in virtually every professional league throughout North America. The ministry is also engaged in collegiate and junior hockey ranks.

Mark Osborne, a former NHL player who now is actively involved with HMI’s ministry observes, “As a ministry you are not only supporting and mentoring the hockey player but their family and many of the wives who are faithful Christian women who support their husbands and it’s just a natural byproduct of who HMI ministers to.” He went on to add that once a hockey player gets married and the couple has children HMI realizes the ministry needs to extend beyond the player and reach out to support the rest of the family.

Hockey Ministries International also realizes the need to minister to not only boys and men but girls and women who now play hockey. Although the organization does not have an active chapel program on any of the women’s teams it does operate girls’ hockey camps and has received inquiries from the North American Women’s Hockey League. Osborne sees the opportunity to minister to girls and women in hockey as an immediate need that HMI needs to respond to.

Now active in countries such as Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, HMI was founded by Montreal (Canada) native Don Liesemer, a former junior hockey player who was serving as a chaplain to the city of Montreal’s professional football team. Liesemer combined forces with two professional footballers as well as former NHL players Doug Jarvis and David Forbes to stage the first Christian hockey camp. The vision was to deliver the message of Jesus Christ to the world of hockey in a way that was seen as not being intrusive. Today 130 teams in North America alone offer chapel programs utilizing the services of HMI.

The chapel programs can be as diverse as setting aside fifteen minutes to participate in a devotional, praying with and encouraging one another. It may also involve having another Christian athlete (not necessarily a hockey player) share their testimony. Another staff member John Bechtold has held fikas a word borrowed from Sweden. These are simply coffee times where a player or two will stand up and share an informal testimony. The idea came from a tour undertaken by a Christian college hockey team that Bechtold once coached.

On the east coast of Canada HMI’s Bruce Smith has launched, ‘Chapel @ the Rink’. He says, “It has been our desire to take the gospel to arenas in the area so we began to offer that as a service to our local arenas through our local minor hockey association. We’ve conducted chapels at the rinks on Sunday mornings as a service to the families who may be in the arena on that particular Sunday.”

Before you jump to the conclusion that HMI is comprised of former hockey players who don’t know what else to do with their lives consider this, the staff members of HMI are required to raise their own support from local churches and private donations. Secondly you cannot just apply to HMI and be rubberstamped because you are a former junior or professional hockey player who wants to be involved in ministry. Osborne says, “A very important fundamental of HMI is that we all love hockey and love our roles as Christians but are you called to ministry.”

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One couple in particular that has felt God tug at their heart strings is Kim and Kevin Haller. For many years Kevin was a top rated defenseman in the NHL. Today Kevin combines his experience as a player with Kim’s ministry as a fulltime Christian recording artist to have an impact on players and families alike. Kim uses her pop music as a platform to bring attention to the ministry of HMI and donates part of the proceeds from the sale of her album Wherever to the ongoing work of HMI.

Kevin Haller grew up in a Christian environment and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior at a young age. During the course of his career in the NHL the chapel program was the way he was able to ‘be fed spiritually’. While playing for the Hartford Whalers who later moved to North Carolina Kevin became friends with Glenn Wesley another NHL hockey player who attended the chapel programs. Kevin says that over the years he and Kim have come to appreciate the chapel programs that have been extended to couples. They have particularly fond memories of one such group when Kevin was a member of the New York Islanders.

Kim says, “We feel strongly about what the Lord has done through HMI in our lives.’ She uses words like, ‘full of integrity’ and ‘godly’ to describe the leadership of HMI. She observes, “To watch over the course of years how they have continued to encourage us and impress us by their integrity, their ministry efforts, their patience and willingness to wait on the Lord.” Kim says as a couple they have decided to thank the Lord for providing for them through spending their lives in fulltime ministry. “The other reason was to use our platform to share the hope that is within us.”

People like the Hallers, Smith, Osborne and Bechtold must raise their own financial support for their ministry. You can view Hockey Ministries International’s website at www.hockeyministries.org In the United States the ministry staff includes, Whitey Aus and Bill Butters both located in Minneapolis and Alex Pirus base in Chicago.

The philosophy of Hockey Ministries International may be best described in the words of former NHL goaltender Chico Resch, “Today, a church is not only a dwelling or building, but also something much more fluid. Sometimes the church is a rink, locker room, hotel lobby or an encounter that takes place on the ice.”

Copyright © 2005 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague.

Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.

The photo was provided by HMI.

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