Is Hockey a Godless Sport? Religious Players Say They’ve Mostly Kept Their Faith Hush-Hush

Adam McQuaid says the NHL culture now allows players to be a little more open about espousing their faith. (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)
Adam McQuaid says the NHL culture now allows players to be a little more open about espousing their faith. (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)

He used to keep it hidden. Even many of his teammates — those Adam McQuaid spent years playing with, protecting, avenging — didn’t know. He only recently reached the point that when asked what he has done on unencumbered Sundays, he mentions church.

He used to leave that out.

There were hints: the cross dangling from a chain around his neck, the black rubber encircling his wrist with “I am second” in white. He said little about it, even as he drew closer to his religion in recent seasons as illness and injuries interfered with his career.

“I know that there’s other guys on the team that do the same thing,” McQuaid said. “I’ve kind of come to a point where if someone’s going to ask me, I’m going to be honest.”

While spirituality is on display in other professional sports — with pitchers’ fingers pointing skyward, tattooed crosses adorning NBA arms, words of divine praise in postgame sideline interviews — that’s not the case in hockey. In the NHL, religion is mostly omitted from the conversation, God left unsaid.

Now McQuaid is saying it, softly, hesitatingly: faith.

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Just before the Christmas break, McQuaid sits in a back room on the ninth floor of TD Garden, talking about faith in bashful, sometimes rambling tones. He is not used to revealing this part of himself.

He glances toward ice he cannot see. The Bruins are playing the Nashville Predators that evening, and on that ice, coincidentally, is Mike Fisher, one of the NHL’s more outspoken players concerning faith. He is a rarity.

“Because they know it’s a kind of a little bit against the hockey culture,” Fisher said.

That culture has evolved, albeit slightly. When Laurie Boschman played from 1979-93, hockey ranged from standoffish to downright distrustful of religion. Even now, it’s not always easy to reveal to teammates willing to mock your every move or to a not-always-friendly front office.

When Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis debuted with the Predators in 2003, however, he came into a dressing room friendly to those of faith. He was comfortable, he said, and “not afraid if it came up that I was going to be exposed.”

Exposed?

“In a hockey dressing room if you do anything out of the norm you’re going to get called out on it, whether it’s a funny hat you wear, a new pair of shoes, or a bad haircut,” said Hamhuis. “So you’re always kind of on guard and aware of yourself. In matters of faith, it could be something that guys might give you a hard time about, and if you’re not real mature in your faith, you might not be comfortable defending it.”

Because of this, faith can be a closely guarded secret in the NHL. Shane Doan, the captain of the Arizona Coyotes and another out-and-proud Christian, had no idea that McQuaid is part of his tribe. “What?” he says, when told about McQuaid. “No way.”

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SOURCE: Amalie Benjamin
The Boston Globe

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