For Nashville Predators defenseman and 16-year NHL veteran Dan Hamhuis, discovering what it meant to have a true relationship with Jesus Christ has laid the foundation for every aspect of his life.
Hamhuis grew up in a Christian home and regularly attended church throughout his childhood. Even when he left home to continue his hockey career at the junior level in Prince George, church was still a normal part of his life.
After being drafted by the Predators and beginning his first year of professional hockey with the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2002-03 season, Hamhuis found himself at a point of deep spiritual introspection. He had more freedom than he’d ever had before, being on his own in a new city that was far away from where he grew up. That presented challenges that allowed him to grow in his faith.
“The biggest transition for me was when I went to play pro hockey my first year in Milwaukee,” Hamhuis said. “That’s when it really struck me. Now I was living on my own far away. No one was going to know if I went to church or not. Up to that point, I would say I was religious in the fact that I thought going to church was what was important. I think it was in that year in Milwaukee I started to question like ‘Hey, no one will know if I don’t go.’ And I started to asking myself questions, important questions like ‘Why do I go? Why is this important to me? Is it important to me?’ And it was a perfect combination of a lot of self reflection and asking big questions. What’s my life purpose? Why would I want to believe in these things?
“Having our chaplain, his name was Iggy Cofaro, in Milwaukee kind of led me through those questions. He was patient but also direct with me in that, knowing how I grew up and that I needed to decide and understand this for myself. It was a year that really was transitional in my faith where I took it upon myself. That’s where my faith became my own, not something that I did because we just go to church every Sunday and that’s what my parents brought me to. I think it was in that year that I developed that personal relationship with God and understood more of what that looks like. I’m still trying to understand that more today, but that was really making it less religious and more of a relationship where things really changed for me.”
When you peel back the layers of what it means to be a professional hockey player, particularly at the highest level, it’s easy to see the outer layers of the fame and money that comes with the territory. However, there is more to it than that.
There’s lots of pressure in a win-at-all-costs type of business where the stakes and money are so high. And the swing in emotions throughout an NHL season can range from utter euphoria to complete devastation and everywhere in between.
Hamhuis believes his faith has helped him stay grounded through it all and has constantly reminded him of his identity in Christ.
“It’s been huge for me, and I think it’s helped me to actually play better too,” Hamhuis said. “Knowing that hockey is what I do and doesn’t define who I am. My Christian faith, my relationship with God, who I am in that defines who I am. That just takes a lot of the pressure off. Living and dying, the ups and downs of the hockey world, especially at the NHL level, the ups and downs are very high and very low. To be able to understand that I’m not defined by those things, I’m defined by a bigger thing out there, I think it allowed me to not get too high in the success and not get too low when things weren’t going well. It allowed me to play better. It took a burden off my shoulders. And it’s easy to say that. I still get caught up in focusing too much on results and what people are thinking, opinions of others. And when I do that, I just feel a burden growing on my shoulders. To play when I could find that balance of knowing that that’s not all it was about, I played free. I played light. I played my best hockey.”
We all struggle with different things in our lives, sometimes without even fully recognizing the depth of our struggles. One of the most challenging parts of staying spiritually engaged while being an NHL player is simply time…..or more specifically, the lack of it.
“There’s so many distractions, and not just the ones that you typically think of like road trips and bars, girls and that stuff,” Hamhuis said. “I feel like the distractions are more subtle and trickier to stay in the right mindset spiritually. Being busy. Being busy staring at your phone all day, not allowing time for that stillness is such an easy trap to fall into. I like to be productive. I find myself that that’s sometimes where I get wrapped up. It’s not a terrible thing, but it takes my mind. I find I lose my time for stillness and that reflection period for perspective.
“We’re fortunate to have really good chapel programs throughout the NHL. Hockey Ministries does a fantastic job, Professional Athletes Outreach, Athletes in Action…..there’s so many great resources for athletes that allow us to find a spiritual connection out there because they adapt to our schedule. Sundays don’t mean a lot in the NHL. We play games at any time of the day and any day of the week and any holiday so we have to find other times. Nashville has such a fantastic chapel program here with Pike Williams leading it since its inception in 1998. It’s great as an individual to connect and learn and be reminded of what the Bible teaches and what God is teaching us, but also it’s really encouraging to do that with other guys and understand that other guys are also Christians and have struggles and share in high moments, too. And then understand that there’s other guys on other teams that are also Christians. I find that that whole program is really encouraging.”
Our world today is a challenging one for many of us, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic that has basically shut down the world as we’ve known it. However, Hamhuis is reminded that as followers of Jesus Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that God has a plan for it all and, most importantly, is still in control of it all. Just as he always has been.
“There is a lot of tough situations out there,” Hamhuis said. “We’re not doing what we’re usually doing and our routines, and I’ve really enjoyed the time to have time to be still and reflect. I think being a Christian throughout this has given me a sense of peace, a sense of comfort. When things aren’t going well, those type of words are kind of what you’re wanting and looking for. The Christian story and the relationship with Jesus, that’s what it is. I think it’s given me the ability to have a bigger-picture perspective of where we are going, not just the steps ahead of us. I like the idea of these times in this [pandemic] of maybe God is preparing and challenging and getting us ready for something that could be ahead.
“Just to have that confidence that He’s in control and He has a plan and whether it’s going to be through some difficulties, as Christians God has promises in the Bible that He’s always working on our behalf for good. Our definition of good is sometimes interesting. It’s not always material things. Sometimes it’s maybe restoring a relationship or building patience in us or building some sort of quality or fruit of a spirit that wouldn’t happen otherwise in our busyness. It’s certainly not always material blessings. Sometimes it’s the blessing of peace or a relationship or something that maybe is a little more unexpected or growth, mental toughness, resiliency. I think to have that perspective as a Christian, you start to look for those growth opportunities in the struggles because you have that trust that God has a bigger, better picture for us.”
Hamhuis trusts in that bigger and better picture. While realizing that being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to bad things happening in life, there’s a comfort level and a reassurance that this life is not the end of the story. There’s hope for tomorrow because we know who is in control of tomorrow.
So when things get tough, trust the Lord. When things are going well, trust the Lord. In all things, trust the Lord. And you’ll be amazed at where he will take you.