Tim Tebow’s Evangelical Spirit Hasn’t Caught On in NHL, But Bruins Believe Players Would Accept Religious Peers


Tim Tebow's Evangelical Spirit Hasn't Caught On in NHL, But Bruins Believe Players Would Accept Religious PeersThe Patriots visit Denver this weekend for a clash with Tim Tebow, the Broncos and, some would believe, the mystical forces backing them.

Tebow has become one of the most polarizing figures in sports with his strong religious convictions and seeming determination to turn every postgame interview into an evangelical opportunity.

But he's far from alone in the NFL when it comes to spreading the Christian message with more fervor than spreading the ball around. It's become routine in football to see players take a knee in prayer after a touchdown or answer any question by first "thanking my savior."

Things are a little different in hockey, however. Such outward displays of faith remain rare. But is there a reason hockey is such a secular sport?

"I don't think a ton of guys are very religious in hockey," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "I think that's just plain and simple.

"It's probably from where we grew up and the families we grew up in," Ference added. "I know family life probably wasn't centered around the church. It was centered around the hockey rink I guess. For whatever reason, it's just not ever been a huge thing in any locker room I've been in."

Teammate Shawn Thornton lent some support to that theory when asked about the lack of religious displays in the game.

"You're asking the wrong guy," Thornton said. "I'm not religious whatsoever, so I don't know. It's never around me. I've never been to church other than for weddings, so I'm probably the wrong guy to ask."

Thornton was also unaware of playing with teammates over the course of his 15 professional seasons who was that fervent in their religious views.

"Not that I know of," Thornton said. "I guess guys just don't bring it up as much. I have no idea."

That's not to say that hockey players would shun anyone with such religious zeal.

"I don't think guys would have any problem with it," Ference said. "It's not like a guy would be ostracized if he did that, but I just don't think a lot of guys are going to church every Sunday. I'm trying to think of guys I played with, and there's only a couple that that was a big part of their lives."

There have been plenty of devout Christians in the NHL over the years, including many current players. The difference in hockey compared to other sports like football is that it's rare for hockey players to use their sport as a pulpit to spread their message the way Tebow and others in the NFL have.

"Everybody is going to be their own person," Ference said. "I don't think you can fault somebody for believing in something strongly, and if it's something positive in his life, then all the power to him. Like I said, I don't think anybody in hockey would be ostracized if they were like that, especially for something that's positive in most people's eyes. I don't see anything wrong with it."

Ference does draw the line in believing that players like Tebow are drawing direct benefits on the field from their prayers.

"I don't think God likes him more than the other team so he lets him score touchdowns, but all the power to him," Ference said. "If that's his thing and he's got a strong belief and it's something positive in his community and his home, then that's wonderful. I don't see anything wrong with it."

And as to any competitive advantage, Ference added, "I'm sure the guys on the other team pray as well."

And there are players in hockey that pray too. Stu Grimson belied his on-ice image as an intimidating enforcer known as the "Grim Reaper" by running hockey schools for Christian athletes in the summer during his lengthy career.

And 2011 Florida draft pick Rocco Grimaldi has taken a Tebow-esce approach to promoting his faith. A devout Christian who has cited Tebow as a role model, Grimaldi slipped to the second round last year after being projected as a possible first-rounder. Some speculated that his stanch religious views may have contributed to his fall in the draft, though his diminutive 5-foot-6 frame likely played a bigger role.

Grimaldi, who is currently playing for the University of North Dakota, has gotten in some hot water for his messages, most notably a string of tweets in September lecturing women to dress less provocatively. Grimaldi implored women, "Before you dress ask, 'Does this outfit honor God, does it honor my body, does it help serve/love my brothers?"

If Grimaldi or other players of similar evangelical bent does to make it to the NHL, how will they be received? Ference doesn't expect it would cause any problems, though his analogy might not please some of the more fanatical members of the religious right.

"It's the same thing with anything in sports," Ference said. "If a guy comes out and he's gay or something like that, all the power to him. He's not hurting anybody. So this is the same thing. People that are against people that believe in something, whether it's the gay community or whether it's a religious community, if they're not bothering you, what's the big deal? I really don't understand it. So all the power to them. Just believe what you believe in and people should respect that."

Thornton offered the simplest solution.

"To each his own, I don't judge," Thornton said. "Judge-free zone here."

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