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Rambler's Top100

18 2007 . 
NHL embraces religion, but keeps faith more private // The Detroit News

Joanne C. Gerstner 

DETROIT -- So why is it pro baseball, football and basketball players seem to embrace religion and hockey players don't?

Nobody really has an answer, other than citing a few factors:

Hockey has the most international flavor, with players coming from Europe, the former Soviet republics and Canada.

There isn't a mainstream tradition of mixing hockey and religion, so it's taking longer for that line to be crossed.

The Red Wings, like the majority of NHL teams, do not have a chaplain or services. Players are free to worship privately, leaving the rink only for hockey.

"Just because you don't see anything formal here doesn't mean there aren't some very spiritual or devout guys in this room," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We had chapel in Anaheim, and I know for me personally, my faith is very important to me and my family. But it's a very private thing for me, and I choose not to talk about it here or in the media.

"I guess hockey is just different. I don't know how else to put it."

Hockey Ministries International, a Christian group based in Montreal, runs spiritual programs in youth leagues, college, minors, juniors and the NHL. They've made strong contacts throughout the hockey world, yet only have caught on with nine NHL teams.

"It's tough, because progress is slow -- we've been doing this since 1977," said Don Liesemer Jr., HMI's director of chapel programs. "But we're confident that things are going the right way. It takes time to build relationships, and the NHL office has been very supportive to us."

Former Wings player Barry Melrose said spirituality exists in the NHL, just in a quiet form.

"One of the most religious guys you could ever meet was Stu Grimson," Melrose said of the former feared enforcer, who played for the Wings and six other teams. "He didn't run around telling people about it, but he's one of the deepest Christians you can meet. The thing is, hockey's tradition is all about maintaining your privacy. Guys don't go around talking about religion, or a fight they had with their wife, in the locker room. It's like a zone that you respect that way.

"So I just don't think hockey's made it so a guy like Reggie White or a (Jon) Kitna would just show up declaring their love for Christ. But maybe that's why hockey doesn't get the attention like other sports. Maybe we are too private about everything."

There are indeed quiet expressions of faith, right in the Red Wings locker room.

Forward Pavel Datsyuk was born in 1978, during a time in his native Russia where religious expression was denied by the communist government. But he still is religious.

Datsyuk has a small, three-picture traditional Russian Orthodox icon shrine -- Mary, Christ and St. Nikolai -- in the left corner of his locker.

"I believe," Datsyuk said, holding the photos in his hands. "They are very important to me. I believe because I can."  

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