This story appears in FCA Magazine’s March/April 2016 issue. Subscribe today!
The light behind the Coyotes’ goal in Phoenix was about to burn out from overuse. The net was wearing thin. In just a 17-minute span on Jan. 6, 2015, former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes had found the back of the net four times.
It started early in the second period with a backhanded power-play goal. About a minute later, Backes ripped a 15-footer to complete a breakaway. A slick wrist shot gave him his third career hat trick late in the second, and he capped the heroics three minutes into the third period on a one-timer while skating full speed towards the goal.
Blues 6, Coyotes 0.
The offensive outburst wasn’t unique for Backes, who had another four-goal night in April 2009, and—as usual—he was quick to deflect praise after the game. (“I can’t take all the credit,” he said in his postgame interview. “I was able to pay [my linemates] off for doing a lot of the hard work.”)
Still, though, it was somewhat surprising, even to Backes, given his reputation as a player known more for his defense than goal scoring. He has finished in the top five in the Selke Trophy voting (given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game) in each of the past four seasons.
“I wish I had a one- or two-item checklist of what I did and what worked because I’d be doing it every night, and I’d be scoring a lot of goals,” Backes said. “But it’s just one of those things where everything falls into place, the puck seems to find the back of the net, and you’re in the right place at the right time.”
Right place, right time.
Much like that night in Phoenix more than a year ago, the same can be said for Backes’ life and hockey career. Over the years, he's grown in his walk with the Lord, using his platform to encourage others in their faith. A two-time Olympian and an NHL All-Star—a career any fellow player would envy, and one that a younger Backes never dreamed would happen.
• • •
Before St. Louis selected Backes in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, a professional career was barely in the thoughts of the young high schooler.
“I still had the plan of going to college, becoming an electrical engineer and then going to law school,” he said. He still attended and played for Minnesota State University, but “three years in, when [St. Louis] started talking about a contract, I figured I was going into pro hockey. But I never thought a 10-year-plus career was in the cards.”
Backes made his Blues debut in December 2006. Two years later, he tallied 31 goals while appearing in every game, and he was named team captain following his fifth season. He’s become a staple in the St. Louis lineup, earning All-Star honors in 2011 and representing the United States in two separate Olympics. At the Vancouver Games in 2010, Backes notched a goal and two assists while helping Team USA to a silver medal. Then, at the 2014 Olympics Games in Sochi, he tallied three goals.
"You should use this platform for making good in this world." -David Backes
It’s a tremendous amount of success for Backes, who entered the NHL as a right winger but soon made the switch to center. It might sound like a seamless transition to the unseasoned hockey fan, but the transition isn’t nearly as easy as Backes made it look.
“It probably took me a good full season to be comfortable and really be a force, changing positions,” he said. “It definitely was a transition, but I think it’s been something that has added years and value to me as a hockey player.”
More than 10 full seasons in the league, Backes’ leadership role is something he does not take lightly.
Backes’ message to his teammates? Use the platform you’ve been given.
“Whether you do something with kids or something with animals or cancer or whatever it is,” he said, “you should use this platform for making good in this world.
“Leadership is the ability to put the team first and sacrifice your own personal success for the benefit of others. If you expect your teammates to do that, then you better be the first guy to buy into it.”
• • •
Raised in a church setting, Backes tried to get involved with local churches wherever he played, but for a while he felt something was missing.
Greater St. Louis FCA: The Spirit of St. Louis
Nestled along the Mississippi River,
St. Louis boasts passionate fan bases for both the Blues and Cardinals. Read More
“When I moved away from home, my parents ventured to a different church,” he said. “They really started a relationship rather than a routine with their faith.” His parents invited him to attend, and “it opened so many doors with growing in my faith. Now it was a relationship, something I could really lean on and have a solid foundation.”
While with the St. Louis Blues, Backes built upon that solid foundation through the Blues’ chapel services, which gave him the opportunity to connect with his teammates on a different level. He also interacted with other professional athletes in St. Louis, something made possible by FCA volunteer and Huddle coach Grant Williams.
Williams, a nine-year NFL offensive lineman who won a Super Bowl in 2001 with the New England Patriots and settled in St. Louis after retiring with the Rams, can relate to the unique challenges facing pro athletes. He constantly reflects back on a statistic he heard when he entered the league as a rookie: Within two years of retirement, 72 percent of NFL players end up divorced, bankrupt or addicted. When athletes begin their career, that number is just a statistic, but as they grow older the realization hits closer to home.
“What I wasn’t prepared for was, it’s going to be your teammates … it’s going to be guys you know,” Williams said.
Thankfully, Williams is part of the other 28 percent, and the result has been a passion for team ministry and Christian community. Following his NFL career, he went to seminary and earned his master’s degree in counseling. Now he provides Christian counseling for men and runs a pro athlete Bible study on Tuesday mornings in St. Louis. Linebacker and professing Christian James Laurinaitis (who has since moved on to Los Angeles with the Rams) invited Backes about a year ago.
"Now [faith] was a relationship, something I could really lean on and have a solid foundation." -David Backes
“The study is a lot of fun,” Williams said, “because we’re so used to doing one sport. ‘Here is your team, and it’s all baseball or all football.’ But I always wanted to bridge that gap.”
Backes called the study “a breath of fresh air on Tuesday mornings.”
“We’re able to discuss trials and triumphs, struggles and successes, wives and families,” he said. “We have a safe place to exchange that dialogue, and from it comes a great feeling of the Lord being with us, guiding us and putting these people in our lives so that we can walk together, support each other, and do the right things.”
Williams said Backes is on the front lines in his attempts to bring Christ into the hockey world, and he appreciates the perspective Backes has brought to the study over the past year. In fact, Backes’ attitude towards his sport reminds Williams a little of himself.
“He seems like an offensive lineman,” Williams said. “I love a guy who can come into Bible study with a black eye, not complain, and be open and honest about where he wants to go and grow in his life and in his faith.
FCA Hockey: Looking Back & Looking Forward
Much like David and Kelly Backes are opening the eyes of the hockey world to the love of Jesus Christ, Rick Randazzo is spreading God's Word through FCA Hockey. Read More
“He is very sincere and humble. I know the study has encouraged him and empowered him to want to make faith available for his teammates. Faith is really private in pro hockey, and we’re in the process of trying to make it more open and acceptable in every team environment—like it is in the NFL and Major League Baseball.”
• • •
Backes has known his wife, Kelly, since kindergarten. The two were high school sweethearts, and since their marriage they have developed a service-minded approach to putting their faith into action.
“When we became professionals, we were looking to connect with the community, give back, and figured, ‘Why not do what we’ve always done and love doing?’” Backes said.
The two started volunteering at local animal shelters when they were in college at Minnesota State in Mankato. In November 2013, they established Athletes for Animals, an organization that educates, promotes and raises funds for pet care and adoption.
Bringing It Home: Coming To Fruition
David Backes certainly didn't lack talent on the ice as a youngster, but he still never pictured himself in pro hockey. Read More
While in college, Kelly was afflicted with some hearing loss. (She still wears a hearing aid today.) That put David and Kelly in touch with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and in June 2014 the couple traveled to Kenya to personally fit hearing aids for children living in one of Nairobi’s poorest slums. The trip brought Mark 7:37 to life right before them: “They were extremely astonished and said, ‘He has done everything well! He even makes deaf people hear, and people unable to speak, talk!’”
“We were able to serve these people, put our hands on them, show them that someone from halfway around the world cares about them,” Backes said. “By giving them earmolds and hearing aids, we were able to take kids from deaf schools and assimilate them back into great communication with their families and friends. It opened up the possibilities of the world for them.”
• • •
Right place, right time.
Whether describing in-game strategy or timing on the ice, his NHL career or any other detail in his life, Backes knows Christ is ultimately in control, directing him along the way.
“In my faith walk, I’ve needed to surrender and recognize He has a bigger plan for me,” he said. “This is not my own will, and I am right where He wants me to be.”
Greater St. Louis FCA: The Spirit of St. Louis
Nestled along the Mississippi River, St. Louis boasts passionate fan bases for both the Blues and Cardinals. The sports-loving population in the “Gateway to the West” has served as fertile soil upon which the Greater St. Louis FCA has been ministering for more than 50 years.
“We have a unique opportunity in FCA to reach different students and people year after year,” says former Cardinals pitcher Rick Horton, now in his 23rd year with the ministry.
With a strong backing from the community, growth in FCA Leadership boards and staff, and a focus on training new student-leaders at FCA Leadership Camps, the ministry has doubled its presence on St. Louis-area campuses over the past seven years. Now, close to 200 campuses have an FCA Huddle meeting regularly.
The impact pro athletes can have when professing his faith publicly is immensely important, Horton says. And it is those athletes and coaches to whom FCA seeks to minister—no strings attached.
“One of our focuses has always been to serve the professional athletes,” says Horton, who also works as a Cardinals TV and radio broadcaster during the season. “We’ve had chaplains and Bible study opportunities to minister to the families of pro athletes, and that’s where it starts. Many of them have gotten involved with FCA, which is another prong of positive influence that is important for young people.”
With the growth in recent years, Horton and the Greater St. Louis FCA staff have high expectations for what the future holds, both in terms of numbers and the depth to which people are being impacted for Christ.
“What I’m most excited about is the way we are growing, not only in our scope but also in our depth,” he said. “There is always more work to do, more athletes and coaches to reach.”
For more information about the Greater St. Louis FCA, including a list of upcoming events, staff contact information, and ways to get involved, visit stlfca.org.
FCA Hockey: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Much like David and Kelly Backes are opening the eyes of the hockey world to the love of Jesus Christ, Rick Randazzo is spreading God's Word through FCA Hockey.
Those outside the sport might not realize, but hockey has its own unique challenges in fostering growth and spiritual development. The nature of hockey forces kids to mature quickly. Many leave their homes as young teenagers, swept away from the guidance of their parents and church and vulnerable to temptation on their own.
“That is the hockey world,” said Randazzo, a former Army hockey player and Naval Academy head coach. “Kids are leaving at 15. They are in an environment where they are not tied into a local church, because you’re traveling on weekends. It definitely shows the need for FCA Hockey, for us to go out into the field and talk to these hockey moms and dads who really want their kids to stay connected. We’ll help you set up a Huddle at the rink or do a family devotion based on hockey.”
Randazzo recently completed a grueling four-and-a-half year tour where he and his family spent 30 days in every state conducting youth and adult clinics, coaching seminars and team ministry. David Evans, FCA Hockey Director of Coaches Ministry, joined the tour with his family in 2013 and did eight separate states.
“All 50 states were reached for the Lord and for FCA Hockey,” Randazzo said. “It’s been remarkable, going back to August 2011 and what the Lord did in Maine and then moving from state to state. Every state has been a little different, but to be able to come alongside other Christian families and encourage them to be a light in the hockey world and their communities has been the most rewarding for us as a family.”
The fruit of Randazzo’s ministry piled up as fast as Backes’ four goals on that January night in Phoenix. Students received Christ or rededicated themselves to the Lord. A family in Alaska, encouraged by Randazzo’s ministry, decided to become missionaries. A doctor in Philadelphia recently completed several Central American medical missions because of Randazzo’s and FCA’s impact.
“The Lord allowed us to lead families to Christ on the tour,” Randazzo said. “It’s been remarkable to see how the Lord has used our family to till the soil, get out there and meet people.”
Randazzo’s next step is constructing a top of the line hockey arena in Alexandria, Minnesota, where FCA can do ministry and host tournaments and clinics. It will be the base of operations for FCA Hockey to reach the world for Christ.
For more information about FCA Hockey, including a list of upcoming events, staff contact information, and ways to get involved, visit fcahockey.com.
Bringing It Home: Coming to Fruition
“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us ...” – Ephesians 3:20
David Backes certainly didn’t lack talent on the ice as a youngster, but he still never pictured himself in pro hockey. Instead, he planned on pursuing an education in engineering and law.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with prioritizing education over athletics (it’s something all young athletes should strive for), but God saw a more complete picture of Backes’ life that veered from the course Backes had intended. The Lord’s path included a now decade-long NHL career, highlighted by NHL All-Star honors, and two separate Olympic appearances with Team USA.
Backes has used his position as a professional athlete and man of God to inspire and serve, engage in Bible studies with other athletes, and to be a catalyst to proclaim Christ in the hockey world. His involvement with the Starkey Hearing Foundation even took him to Africa to help fulfill the Great Commission to spread the good news of Christ across the world.
Perhaps most importantly, he encourages those around him to do the same with the platform they’ve been given: “I tell teammates, ‘You’ve been given this great platform … for making good in this world.’”
Backes’ story, while unique, can serve as an example to us all of the power of giving up our own roadmap and surrendering it to God.
The twists and turns may not be quite what we expect, yet the destination never veers off course. By truly seeking a relationship with Jesus Christ, Backes began tilling ground for God to take what was already instilled within his heart and bring it to abundant fruition.
It’s only natural to have hopes and visions of what our lives will look like. We all have them. Our benefit, if we choose to accept it, is the Master Planner in our corner, weaving everything together with an ultimate outcome for our good and His glory.
God’s vision for our lives surpasses our wildest expectations. We must give up our heart and place it willingly in His capable hands.
“I’ve needed to surrender that He has a bigger plan for me,” Backes said, “and I am right where He wants me to be.”
• Does the vision for your life look more like yours or God’s?
• What holds you back from bringing the calling of your life to fruition?
• How can you entrust the details of your life to God in a way that fully allows your heart to surrender?
• Philippians 1:6
• Jeremiah 29:11
• Romans 12:2
Father, I thank You that You have not given up on me, and that You have a good and perfect plan for my life. Your vision may not look like mine, but You know best. Help me believe that Your ways are those in which I should walk, and let my heart daily surrender to You and the hope that You can do immeasurably more in and through me. Amen.
–This article appears in the March/April 2016 issue of FCA Magazine. To view the issue digitally, click here: March/April 2016 FCA Magazine Digital
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Photos courtesy of Scott Rovak/St. Louis Blues