In God they trust

DONNA CASEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Pulling off his helmet as he enters the Ottawa Senators locker room, Mike Fisher keeps his head low as he walks past a throng of reporters, cameramen and photographers.

He smooths over his drenched brown hair, pulls on a black ball cap and puts on his game face in front of a phalanx of cameras, notepads and spotlights.

"Yeah, it's a slow day," says the 26-year-old forward with a rueful chuckle.

It's the morning after Game 3 of the Senators second-round matchup against the New Jersey Devils and the buzz is all about Fisher's well-timed bump of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur just seconds before Tom Preissing's goal in the early minutes of the third period.

Beads of sweat drip from Fisher's scruffy playoff beard as he tells reporters that the knock was unintentional, that he doesn't play dirty, that he tries to play by the rules.

In a nearby equipment room, Fisher's stick hangs on a rack, with the words Romans 12:12 scribbled along the side.

It's a prayer Fisher says every time he steps out on the ice.

Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble and always be prayerful.

'GIVE GOD ALL THE GLORY'

"It's just a reminder. Sometimes, you go on ups and downs and just to be happy for what God has given you and try to give God all the glory," says Fisher as he rests on a locker room bench after the morning skate.

Today, the spotlight's on his derring-do foray into a goal crease and tomorrow, the focus may be a questionable hit or his dearth of playoff goals.

Either way, the Peterborough native sees his play on and off the ice through the prism of a committed and deep Christian faith.

"I just try to stay on an even keel and not get too high and not get too low as well and keep a good perspective on everything," says Fisher.

"Before games, I try to just give Him the game and try to give my best effort every night and He'll take care of the results, for sure," he says.

Fisher is one of a handful of Senators players who seek out the wisdom of the Bible to guide them in their careers and personal lives.

A few times a month, Fisher drops by a 20-minute non-denominational gathering led by Laurie Boschman, the original Senators captain who now runs the Ottawa and Eastern Ontario chapter of Hockey Ministries International.

The Christian charity, which has links with about 200 North American junior and pro hockey teams, runs chapel programs for players in 10 of the NHL's 30 teams.

"It's all player-driven," says Boschman, adding "it would surprise you the number of players who are interested."

Boschman guards details of who and how many Senators players attend the chapel, saying players' participation depends on the program's privacy.

There are some regulars and others drop by just to "check it out," says Boschman.

"As former hockey players, we understand some the pressures these guys are under and the challenges they face," he says, adding he's there to "walk with them."

A pro athlete's life is a charmed one, but some questions about life, death and relationships remain the same for the superstar player and the fan in the stands.

"It's about what the Bible has to say about those areas and how we can apply it to our own lives," says Boschman, who says there's growing acceptance among pro teams for spiritual guidance.

In the U.S., few bat an eye if a pro baseball, football or basketball player talks about God publicly.

Boschman says religion is part of the pro sports landscape thanks to a feeder system in U.S. colleges where chaplains are just another member of the support team for young athletes.

When athletes go pro, it's a seamless progression and there's no stigma about professing their beliefs publicly, he says.

Boschman says it's taken time for religious support groups like HMI to gain the trust of NHL teams.

"Once they become familiar with us and there's a trust that develops, they understand there's nothing spooky about who we are and what we do," says Boschman, who attended his first hockey chapel in 1980 when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

MORE DEDICATED PLAYER

While he says finding God helped him become "a more dedicated athlete and committed hockey player," Leafs owner Harold Ballard belittled Boschman's born-again Christian faith, blaming his beliefs for making him a soft player.

"I didn't have any problem with the fact you could play aggressive, physical and tough and be a Christian," says Boschman, adding that there are "still some preconceived notions about what a Christian hockey player looks like."

Fisher, with his rugged looks and easy smile, has become an NHL poster boy for how good guys can play tough and keep their eye on a prize beyond the Stanley Cup.

Raised in a Christian home, he cites his parents as key role models who kept him grounded during his years playing with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL.

In his nine years with the Senators, Fisher formed a kinship with Roger Neilson, the beloved assistant coach who died of cancer in June 2003.

"He was a good role model for me and well respected in the game and a guy who obviously loved God but loved to have a good time and had a good sense of humour," says Fisher.

"The way he battled cancer and fought and was at peace with whatever God had for him was amazing," says Fisher, who regularly attends Kanata Wesleyan Church.

In the summer, Fisher is one of many NHLers who help out at HMI's camps for young players.

"Kids want to know what God has done in your life and I try to share with the impact and the importance that having a faith is to me," says Fisher, who devotes some time every day reading the Bible or in prayer.

A few years ago, a series of injuries sidelined Fisher, prompting him to question his future and take solace in his faith.

"I really doubted whether I could become the player I could be," he recalls. "Just having a faith in Christ and knowing that he has a certain plan for me and just giving it all over to Him, that's when I kind of relaxed."

"Now, I don't take the game for granted at all because I appreciate being healthy and being able to play. It's kind of a gift," says Fisher.

"God kind of gives you the patience to deal with those types of things."


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