Houston Aeros’ enforcer Matt Kassian on God and hockey
The Houston Aeros’ 6-foot-4 forward Matt Kassian is undeniably tough, with a reputation as the team’s enforcer and more fighting penalties than any other player. He’s a big guy with a bigger heart, a practicing Christian who brings his faith into the locker room and the community.
There aren’t a lot of Christians on the ice, fewer than in football or baseball, so Kassian says his case is rare. Professional hockey teams tend to only have a few practicing Christians, who may get criticized for preaching a loving Gospel message while playing such a rough and seemingly violent sport.
But Kassian, 24, disagrees: “Who better to be the guy who’s fighting for his teammates than a guy who’s a Christian and says he’s a believer? Who better to stand up and try to protect his team?”
The role of enforcer, protector and guardian extends beyond the rink. He helps lead fellow players in Bible study, invites them to join him at services at nearby Baptist churches and reminds them to keep their careers in perspective. This year’s team is a tight group that gets along well, he said, and it’s this sense of unity that’s led them to the minor league playoffs.
The Alberta, Canada-born player has spent four seasons on the Aeros and left his home at age 16 to start training for a professional hockey career. Though Kassian’s grandfather played on the Canadian Olympic team, his mother–a Christian book author and inspirational speaker–never imagined him playing hockey, but God had other plans.
“I always said that there was no way ever that my son was leaving home to play hockey… There was a turning point as if the Lord said to me, ‘Mary, who does he belong to? Are you going to trust me with his future?’ It was having the faith to trust that I wasn’t in charge of the path that he was on,” said Mary Kassian, author of several Lifeway Bible Studies and the book Girls Gone Wise. “The decision was that clear. This was part of God’s plan for his life.”
Even with him in the minor leagues, mom Mary Kassian worries about those “enamored” fans and how the sport can go to players’ heads. The family knows the pressures of Christian athletes pretty well; Matt’s dad Brent Kassian serves as a chaplain for a pro football team in Canada.
Game to game, Matt Kassian has to continue to remind himself that God is in control and that he must continue seeking him.
“It’s a struggle all the time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make all kinds of mistakes,” he admitted. “Hockey, compared to football and even baseball, is a fairly godless culture. It can be a tough environment to be in.”
Matt Kassian has stayed faithful, attending services at Second Baptist Church or River Pointe in Sugar Land, volunteering in the community and reaching out to young fans. Last year, he won the Aeros Humanitarian of the Year award, which made his mom prouder than a championship win.
“I’m very proud of him. He’s the kind of guy who makes an impact on the community… he’s made a huge difference in the lives of the guys he plays with,” said Mary Kassian, who remembers her son calling her to request a Russian Bible for one of his teammates who couldn’t read in English. “He has the character and the consistency to make a difference. He sticks up for them on an interpersonal relationship level, he sticks up for them on the ice. That’s his role. He’s a guardian, he’s a protector.”
This year, he’ll be sticking up for his team through the playoffs and, God-willing, into the American Hockey League championships.
“The Lord says, ‘Ask and you will receive,’ so there’s nothing wrong with asking for a win,” said Matt Kassian. “Sometimes the Lord says yes, sometimes he says later and sometimes he says no, but the Lord has his hand in everything. It’s tough because you want to feel like you’re in control of how things turn out.”