Hamhuis not defined by his career but by his identity in Christ

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.

Grimaldi guided by faith

For Nashville Predators forward Rocco Grimaldi, his faith in Jesus Christ has always been an intrinsic part of his life.

That faith has helped shape him in to the hockey player, and more importantly the person, he has become.

“I came to know the Lord when I was just a little kid,” Grimaldi said. “I was four years old when I accepted Jesus into my heart. Grew up in the church, grew up in a good Christian family. Mom and dad showed what a good mom and a good dad are supposed to be, what a husband and wife are supposed to look like. They modeled the Christian way for us. Both of my parents are police officers, so growing up they worked a lot to provide for us. So I would stay with my grandparents quite a bit. My grandma is one of my spiritual warriors, my prayer warriors. I’d be over at her house, my mom and dad would be working, she’d be teaching me stories and praying with me.

“She used to call me ‘her little David.’ She still does to this day. I got it from a really young age. A lot of people might say ‘Oh, you were too young to really accept.’ But I don’t believe that. I think if God calls you at two years old, three years old, 25 years old and you hear it, then that’s it. Four years old, my mom asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart to be my Lord and savior and I said ‘absolutely.”

Many Christians struggle with setting time aside on a daily basis and being intentional about spending time with the Lord and getting into the Word. That can especially be difficult for a professional athlete who spends so much time traveling and honing in on their skills, as well as dealing with the normal day-to-day personal lives that all of us have.

Grimaldi has felt called to make spending time in the Word and with the Lord a part of his daily routine, despite the business of an NHL schedule.

“I think one thing for me that I’m actually really good about is reading,” Grimaldi said. “I’ve been reading my Bible just about every day since I was in third grade. I think I was like seven or eight years old and I just felt the Holy Spirit just telling me that it was time to get to know Him besides hearing the stories in church, besides what other people have told me. And I think that’s really important. The Bible talks about it, I believe it’s in Acts, that there’s a town that Paul was preaching in and the people heard the word that was being preached. They didn’t hear it for themselves but they heard it from another person and they believed it, but then what they did is they searched the Scriptures for themselves to see if it was true. And I think God wants us to do that as well.

“We can’t just trust any person that we hear, any pastor, no matter who it is. We have to search it out for ourselves and discern what’s true and what’s not. I think that’s something that’s been engraved from a young age in me from the Lord pulling on my heartstrings to read for myself, to get to know him for myself but also from my parents, my family and my grandma telling me to search it out for myself.”

When you read the Bible, the contents of it can be very counter-cultural to what we experience in modern-day America. We want all of the answers and we want them now. We want everything given to us on our timetable. Most of the time that’s just now how the Lord operates.

“The way I look at is a lot of times, especially in our culture today and being a man, this ‘man’ culture, men are perceived as ones who don’t show emotion, that will always figure a way out of a situation, will always come through,” Grimaldi said. “When times are tough they’re just going to muck and grind it out and be a ‘man’. I think it’s interesting that the Bible is so opposite of that. When you humble yourself and you realize, on your own, life is so hard to figure out. There’s so many ups, there’s so many downs, there’s so many things that just don’t make sense. I think a lot of times when people are trying to figure out life, they’re trying to figure out if there’s a God or there’s not, I think they try to figure everything out.

“I’ve been in a relationship with Christ for over 20 years and I don’t know everything still and I never will. I think that’s something just to humble yourself to know, ‘You know what, I don’t need to know it all. I’m going to do my best to research it, to pray, to seek God out, to ask for his wisdom and he’s going to show up. And he’s going to show me things, but he’s God. Like he doesn’t need to tell me the whole story.’ Like you go to a movie or you go read a book, I don’t want to know the outcome of the movie before I see it. I want to see the whole thing. And I think that’s the same way with God. He’s sitting there and he’s got this whole movie of our lives, and I feel like one day we’re going to sit there in heaven and we’re going to watch this movie of our lives. And I don’t think he wants to tell us the outcome because where would faith come into that aspect?”

Grimaldi’s path to the NHL has been one full of tests and challenges. He became a full-time NHL player for the first time in his career during the 2018-19 season with the Predators after spending time with the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche organizations.

There were times where a path to becoming a full-time NHL player wasn’t always in view for Grimaldi. But he stuck with his dream, pushed through the adversity and is now an important member of the Predators. He uses that experience as an example of what the Lord can do through times of uncertainty when you have faith in Him.

“If I knew that one day I was going to finally get a chance to play in the NHL after four or five years in the minors, yeah it may have made things a little easier but where would my faith have been?” Grimaldi said. “Where would my trust be? Where would my work ethic be because of those times? I feel like those hard times made me who I am today, and I wouldn’t trade those for the world. I know God allows things that are tough to be in our lives, allows bad things to happen to us, but they’re just to grow us. They’re to make us rely on him, to humble ourselves, like ‘Yeah, I’m a man but I can’t do it by myself.’

“I think there’s a quote that says something like ‘People think you’re weak if you admit that you need God, but in reality those who are the strongest are the ones who realize they’re not strong on their own, that they need Christ in their lives.’ Really it’s a humbling process, and it’s a continual strip away of what you think and what you believe in your own mind and just trusting God and saying ‘You know what, I don’t know it all. But you do.”

Duchene stands firm in his faith

NHL star Matt Duchene stands firm in who he is and what he believes.

The Nashville Predators centerman is unashamedly rooted in his faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. Duchene was raised in a Christian home where his relationship with God was a priority. And from that, his spiritual journey with the Lord has helped shape and mold him throughout his life.

“I was just brought up with it,” Duchene said. “My grandparents on both sides are Christians and my parents just brought me up with that way of life and belief. We went to church a lot when I was a kid. It’s tough to keep it going during the season, but I’m going to try and get out and find somewhere I like to go this year now that we’re somewhere permanently for a while. I’m excited to bring my son up with that.

“I grew up going to an Anglican church. I really enjoyed that. I’m kind of a non-denominational type guy now. I think everyone can have their own relationship with God. It’s something that’s a huge thing in my life.”

As Duchene moves into a new season of life in Nashville with his wife Ashley and infant son Beau, he looks forward to raising his family in the same Christian environment that impacted him so heavily as a child.

He and Ashley are committed to providing Beau with a loving example of what a relationship with the Lord is supposed to look like.

“My wife is a Christian as well and was brought up that way, so it’s nice,” Duchene said. “It’s not like I have it and she doesn’t have it. It’s going to be something that [Beau] is brought up with in a very loving way. For me, that’s what I love. It’s a loving relationship with God, and that’s the kind of relationship I think my son will grow up with. I’m really excited to teach him about it because it’s the biggest thing in my life.”

There’s a lot that goes into being a professional athlete, particularly an athlete as high-profile as Duchene is. There’s obviously the countless hours of work that are put in behind the scenes to make sure the on-ice performance continues to improve, but there’s also a certain responsibility that comes with constantly being in the limelight.

Duchene isn’t fazed by publicly putting his faith in Jesus on display. He’s comfortable talking about it with those who approach him. By no means does he want to shove his religious beliefs in the faces of other people, but he also isn’t worried about what outside judgments he may face about being so open about his faith.

“I don’t find it challenging at all,”┬áDuchene said. “I definitely don’t preach to anybody about it who isn’t willing to talk about it, but it is fun to have open conversations with guys who are believers. I think everyone has got different levels of their faith, or none at all. For me, just being a Christian, it’s accepting that. I don’t really care if anyone judges me or not judges me on it. I do what I do and I believe what I believe. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t worry about judgment from other people if there is any, good or bad. It’s my own thing. I think faith is a personal thing, and I kind of keep it that way.”

Like all of us, Duchene often needs guidance from the Lord. As the summer of 2019 was approaching, and with it a free agency decision from Duchene on where he would spend perhaps the remainder of his NHL career, he turned to the Lord to help guide him in making his decision.

And what he found was that the Lord paved the way for him. All he had to do was follow.

Duchene signed in Nashville, a place that had become near and dear to him and his family. He had other options in free agency but ultimately felt Nashville was the right place for them to be.

“I prayed all last year, ‘Lord just open a door for me and I’ll walk through it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make it blatantly obvious what the right decision is to be in,” Duchene said. “The whole way along, there were like flashing signs of what I was supposed to do. I just gave it to Him, and He showed me the way. At the same time you have your own thoughts and everything and sometimes you overthink, but it was honestly taken out of my hands right there in front of me. The doors opened and I walked through them.

“It was as simple as that. I got exactly what I asked for. It was one of those things that reaffirms your faith in a way. Obviously we all have that deep belief, but when you have those moments of ‘Wow, like He’s there and He’s looking out for me’, that was huge last year for me from start to finish.”

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