Gary Steffes grew up in Michigan worshipping hockey. It was his life, as he put it. If he played well, he was happy. If he didn’t? Well, “I was miserable,” he said. “I lived and breathed on what coaches thought of me and where I was on the depth chart.”
One day, during his sophomore year at Miami University, Steffes showed up for a game and found himself listed as a healthy scratch. He’d hit rock bottom—both on the depth chart and in life.
“When your worth and your value are tied to what your coach thinks about you, it was like my heart was getting ripped out of me,” Steffes said. “For the first time in my life, I fell on my knees and asked God to help me.”
Soon after, Steffes connected with FCA Hockey, then in its infancy. Today, years later, he leads FCA Hockey’s discipleship for pro, college and junior players.
“Through FCA Hockey I have learned a much deeper and greater extent of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I have learned what it really means to sacrifice and lay down your life for the gospel.
“I’ve seen God do incredible miracles through FCA. I have experienced God—His provision, His protection. I have learned how to be bold, how to share the gospel. I have grown so much as a man and as a leader, and I’ve gotten to know God in such crazy, awesome ways that I never would have had I not gotten involved.”
Steffes’ story has shared its theme with many others since FCA Hockey launched in June 2008. National Director Rick Randazzo saw a need—“The hockey world needs Jesus,” he says simply—and he loved the idea of the challenge. Since its inception, FCA Hockey has maintained a single-minded goal: To impact the hockey world for Jesus Christ, one coach and one player at a time. Built on FCA’s foundation of the Four C’s—Coaches, Campus, Camps and Community—FCA Hockey creates ways to disciple and share the gospel.
“There are people out there who love Jesus and play hockey,” Randazzo said, “but might not know what that fully looks like.”
Randazzo (bottom, right) leads devotional time during FCA Hockey adult clinics and has witnessed its impact on attendees.
Under Randazzo’s leadership, FCA Hockey has experienced tremendous success. In 2014, more than 2,000 players attended camps, clinics and tournaments in 20 different states. Last November, FCA launched an adult hockey league in Buffalo, New York, joining five other existing leagues (three in Minneapolis and one each in North Carolina and Omaha) that attract more than 600 total hockey players.
This April, FCA Hockey will host the Men's Christian Cup Tournament in Buffalo. Last year, 26 teams competed in the tournament in Minnesota, drawing more than 250 to the ice.
“It’s a way for Christian men to invite non-Christian men who may never go to church to come do something they enjoy and share the gospel,” Randazzo said. “It is a different way of doing it, but it has impacted many lives.”
Randazzo and his leadership team also host between 10 to 12 video conference calls per week with players (pro, college, junior and high school), coaches, referees and a women's call. They read Scripture, discuss Christ’s role in their lives, and challenge one another to live godly lives.
“We’re hitting a point in our ministry where we’ve been active long enough that our initial seed-planting is reaping a harvest where people are rising up and becoming leaders,” said Steffes, who in addition to his role with FCA also plays professionally for the Allen (Texas) Americans of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). “The coolest stories for me are when I meet someone as one guy, and then a total 180 happens and he leaves a different guy. Words can’t describe the gratitude we have for seeing that happen.”
Steffes’ sees his position as a professional player as God placing him in a dark environment to shine His light.
“That’s ultimately why I do what I do, right?” he said. “Hockey is one thing, but at the end of the day hockey is not my life. It’s just my tool to impact lives and reach people for Christ.”
FCA Hockey has changed the lives of Ken and Christopher Paulin, a father-son tandem who attended a free clinic back when Chris was still in high school.
“I remember helping at the clinic, and all these guys knew the Bible so well, and I didn’t,” Ken said. “I felt like a fraud. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until that day.”
Paulin went home and searched his house looking for his Bible but could not find it. He was “embarrassed by the experience,” he said, so he started reading the New Testament Bible that they had given out to all the kids.
Today, Chris is a backup goalie for Niagara University, where he is a junior majoring in sports management. He has been a member of the hockey team all three years, but he’s only played one period in his college career. Ken said that doesn’t matter. What is important is the eternal impact Chris is having on his teammates.
FCA Hockey conducted player and coaching clinics in Northern Italy in 2014.
“I told my son, if you never play another minute in your career, I will be more proud of you for what you’ve done off the ice than what you could do on the ice,” Ken said. “That is all stuff he’s developed through FCA Hockey.”
Both Ken and Chris were baptized during an FCA Hockey summer camp two years ago. Bob Froese, who played for five different NHL teams over a nine-year career and is now a pastor in the Buffalo area, led the baptism.
“FCA has been life-changing,” Ken said. “To see the growth in my son’s faith from going to camps and clinics and the entire FCA Hockey network has been invaluable. I am so proud of the way he’s grown in his walk with the Lord.”
FCA Hockey continues to grow on American soil, expanding the ministry’s outreach to include the growing female hockey player population, hosting its first female overnight camp in Alexandria, Minn., last June. 2010 Olympic silver medalist Jinelle Siergiej will lead the on-ice sessions while Randazzo's wife, Shannan, leads off the ice at this summer’s camp in Alexandria.
Going beyond the U.S. borders, Randazzo and co-worker Todd Lohstreter have led an FCA team (including the Bethel University athletes) to Asia, twice in 2012 and once in 2013, introducing players and coaches to Jesus and donating $9,000 in sports gear to the programs in the country.
“Our goal was to share Christ and to love those kids, to show them what a relationship with Jesus Christ looks like,” Randazzo said. “It’s a different culture. It’s not a culture of encouragement. Sport was just the vehicle, but we wanted to show them Jesus through our actions. It was a huge success.”
Last summer, FCA traveled to Northern Italy to conduct player clinics, coaching clinics and spread the gospel. As a result, the local sport association in Italy is now translating a FCA New Testament with 10 player profiles into Italian for each of their youth and professional players.
Almost seven years after its inception, FCA Hockey has made tremendous strides, lives have been impacted, and the gospel is being shared beyond anything previously imagined. Still, though, Randazzo admits the hockey world needs more Jesus. And that’s what fuels his passion and vision on a daily basis for what FCA Hockey is right now, and for whatever God holds in the future.
|50 States/50 Cities Tour Rolls On |
(L to R) Alex, Rick, Addison, Aaron, Shannan, Anderson and Allie Randazzo
Rick and Shannan Randazzo’s vision for the 50 States/50 Cities Tour came during a quiet time with the Lord. Specifically, from the passage in Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Who shall I send? Who will go for us?’ I said: ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’”
In August 2011, the vision became a reality when the Randazzo family packed up and hit the road. The first stop was Portland, Maine, where they spent 30 days organizing camps, raising awareness and sharing the gospel through FCA Hockey. Since then the Randazzo family has visited 32 states, while staff member David Evans and his family have visited eight states, bringing the total to 41. Together, the two families are establishing a foundation to share the gospel one coach, one player at a time.
“We are modeling this approach after what the Apostle Paul did in the days of the early church, traveling from city to city sharing the gospel, and serving fellow brothers and sisters,” Randazzo said. “Our prayer is that we can be a vessel that the Lord Jesus uses to reach families and hockey players across the entire country.”
The model is working. Randazzo has countless stories of how the FCA Hockey ministry is impacting players, coaches and their extended families.
“I remember one family we met in Boston,” he said. “It was January 2012, the first year of the tour. It was a family whose son played Division I hockey. They shared how he felt he was the only Christian in his whole hockey organization. There was no church. He was lost. He felt alone. We spent a good amount of time with him just praying and encouraging him. FCA Hockey pours into people like this, who haven’t seen or felt Christ in this sport, and we’ve been able to come alongside and encourage them.”
The 50 States/50 Cities Tour is scheduled to travel to California, Oregon and Nevada in in the upcoming months. For more information visit www.50states50cities.com.
–This article appears in the March/April 2015 issue of FCA Magazine. To view the issue in its entirety digitally, click here: March/April 2015 FCA Mag Digital
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Photos courtesy of Rick Randazzo