My hockey career was the stuff of every young man’s dreams. I started skating when I was three and played on my first team at the age of five. My midget team won the Wrigley Midget Hockey Championship, and as a teen-ager, I represented Canada in a tournament in Russia. I was drafted in the first round by the Washington Capitals in 1979, and scored 36 goals in my rookie season. I scored 30 or more goals in 17 of the 19 years I played, finishing my career in 1998 with a total of 708 goals, just the fifth player ever to reach the 700 goal plateau. In 2001, I was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But all of the material benefits that accompany hockey fame and fortune left me without answers to life’s important questions.
In 1980, I met Jean Pronovost when he joined the Washington Capitals. Jean had played 13 seasons in the NHL and was a 50-goal scorer. His strength of character distinguished him on and off the ice, and as a fellow-right winger, he was willing to share his experience with me. Our friendship developed, and he and his wife, Diane, invited me to attend Bible studies in their home. Although I had attended church in my youth, I never really understood how, in our faith and with the help of the Bible, we can find answers to the important questions of life. As we studied the Bible, I began to realize that there was no middle ground.
Then, on a flight between games, Jean asked me simply, “Mike, if this plane goes down, do you know where you will spend eternity?” He explained to me how I could know and be assured of spending eternity in heaven with Christ. This assurance comes by accepting God’s forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross, and by inviting Jesus to be my Saviour. On that same road trip, in the quietness of my hotel room, I got on my knees and said, “Lord if you are real, come into my life now and change me.” I found peace . . . a peace that profoundly impacted the rest of my life. I knew that God was in control of every situation. My faith helped me to handle the highs and the lows of the game - the injuries and trades, the scoring sprees and the slumps – and of life. I knew then that God had a plan for my life.
And, I was more motivated than ever. I played to glorify God, and I played my best. I felt responsible to God to use the talents and abilities He had given me. My new found faith not only made me a better athlete, it made me a better person.