By Gary Steffes
I was four years old, bursting with energy. My parents were looking for any reprieve to get some of it out, so they put me in hockey. I fell in love right away. What do you call that? A blessing.
At seven, I got the opportunity to try out for the well-known and well-respected HoneyBaked Hockey Organization. I ended up playing my entire youth hockey years between them and the equally as competitive Detroit Little Caesars. What do you call that? A blessing.
At seventeen, a door opened up to play for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. For two years, I got to develop under Mark Carlson and be part of winning the Clark Cup in 2005. What do you call that? A blessing.
Then, at nineteen, Miami University. How incredible those years were! To be able to attend such a prestigious University, join the Miami Hockey Brotherhood, and experience the success we had makes me grateful beyond words. We made the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, the Frozen Four twice, and played in the National Championship game in 2009. Truly it was a blessing, an absolute blessing.
Finally, to be able to play professional hockey as a career, what an absolute blessing! Getting to spend three years in Tulsa, one in Bakersfield, and three more in Allen, with call-ups to Lake Erie, Milwaukee and San Jose along the way, was incredibly special. Every city, every game, every point, every fan I’ve met along the way who has welcomed me with open arms. What a blessing!
When I look back at everything that’s happened over the course of my hockey career, sometimes I don’t believe it myself. It is especially true when I think about my first year in Allen. Coach Martinson gave me a tremendous opportunity to develop and succeed. 48 goals later, it was a season unlike any I had ever had; my scoring was more than double what I had scored in any other single season in my career.
I also got to live my dream of playing the AHL again. Prior to the season though, my dream of going back to the AHL had been greatly shaken. On the heels of a tough year in Bakersfield and no call-up opportunities, along with my increasing age, I was not sure it would ever be possible again. I put my trust in the Lord and knew that if it was in God’s plan for me to make it back to the AHL, I would. By God’s grace, I risked it again, in faith, that year in Allen. I played with hope and never gave up. Sure enough, after practice one day in early March, Coach Martinson called me in and informed me I was going to Milwaukee of the AHL. It was a dream come true and a sure blessing from the Lord. I had never talked to anyone in the Milwaukee organization prior to that day.
When I re-joined the Americans after my stint in Milwaukee, the rest of the season was a fairytale. We went on to win the Kelly Cup—it was my first championship in professional hockey. It was crazy, unbelievable, exciting, amazing. It was a blessing.
As you can see, the Lord has blessed me in so many ways and continues to do so. Among all the blessings that have come via my career in hockey, has been the opportunity to work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA is a non-denominational Christian Ministry aiming to serve, influence, and impact coaches and athletes all over the world for Jesus Christ. Shortly after God grabbed my life in 2009, FCA Hockey became a huge part of my life. For the past six years, I have been beyond blessed to work with them full-time in the summer and then go play hockey in the fall. As my last season ended, I realized I was ready for FCA Hockey to take on an even bigger role in my life. I really sought the Lord and prayed over the decision. After a long and emotional wrestle, I am confident that now is the time for me to retire from professional hockey.
It seems weird to even read that back….I am retiring from professional hockey.
Moving forward into the next season of life, I will be working as the Campus Director for FCA Hockey. Connecting with professional, college, and junior hockey players all over the world will be one of my primary focuses. I am really looking forward to developing relationships with these men, helping them in their careers, and empowering them in their walk with Jesus Christ. On top of these relationships, I will be seeking to help expand FCA Hockey’s ministry, so that it becomes even greater. What can I say about such an opportunity to help impact athletes, coaches, and families around the world for Jesus Christ? It is such a blessing. I am honored and grateful.
It’s going to be tough—when anybody retires, it always is. I will enjoy not having some of the extreme pressures on me that hockey players usually do. I am looking forward to a little bit of stability – I might actually live in the same place for an entire year, so that’s pretty cool. I am excited to take on the new responsibility in my job. I know it will be hard this fall when I am not going to camp with my teammates. I will miss the community of guys a ton. And I am definitely going to miss the games! How awesome is it that your job is to go and play a hockey game and compete? I am really going to miss that.
And of course, the fans. Every community I have had the privilege to play in has been absolutely amazing and embraced me with open arms. I am incredibly grateful for the time I have played professional hockey, and all the places I have played. I pray blessings a hundred fold upon everybody, for all of the opportunities I have been able to be a part of, and all the organizations that took a chance on me. The Americans organization has given me the tremendous honor of holding a night to celebrate my career. I am looking forward to seeing so many family, friends, and fans that night who have helped contribute to my success in hockey. Thank you to all of you! It has been an honor. It has been a blessing.