Josh Burkart was focused on only one thing when he graduated from high school: playing collegiate hockey.
Hockey was his life. Burkart had never been around friends who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he had no intention of serving a mission. But that all changed when his brother invited him to play hockey for BYU back in 2003, and without knowing why, he accepted.
“I feel like being on BYU’s hockey team really changed my life,” said Burkart, who is now head coach of the hockey team. “The influence helped me to get my head on straight and to see the gospel at work in peoples’ lives. It helped me to strengthen my testimony to the point I wanted to serve a mission.”
Burkart is one of many whose lives have changed for the better thanks to BYU’s hockey team.
Despite the rigorous physicall sport, the team’s focus on spirituality and self-improvement has been an influence for good in the lives of many individuals.
Coming to know God
Hockey is a rough sport played by tough individuals whose vocabulary often consists of every type of talk imaginable except gospel topics. At least that is what Adam Farero thought before he came to play for BYU.
“It was the first time in my life I was around people that encouraged me to be better,” Farero said. “To be surrounded by people in the locker room not talking about their weekend conquests, but about being a better person and doing well in school, was completely new to me.”
Farero returned to Minnesota after a year at BYU, but he soon decided that he wanted the atmosphere the team provided, and he returned to play for the Cougars.
“For me and my life the BYU hockey team was the first time I learned about God, the first time I realized I was a son of God. It was the first time I learned that I had value and that as a person I had to make good choices for myself and for God,” Farero said.
A few months after his return, Farero decided to be baptized. He went on to serve a mission, marry in the temple and lead the BYU hockey team as its captain his senior year.
“If I made a list of all the things that brought me joy in this life, I would say it came because of the gospel, and that came because of the BYU hockey team,” Farero said.
Strengthening spirituality and character
The team has also helped others to become stronger spiritually and to better their lives in other ways.
“One of my best memories was getting a blessing in the locker room from the three captains on the team,” said Chris Tuttle, current assistant captain of the team. “A lot of guys have been injured, and it’s been cool on trips to give blessings and to get ones.”
Being a club sport, the team does not have a medical staff, and it’s common in hockey for players to play with injuries. Several BYU players said their testimonies have been strengthened seeing the priesthood being used in the locker room to give a blessing to a player fighting hard to sacrifice for the team by playing through injuries.
Along with priesthood blessings, the team built faith and character in players in various ways.
“We have a prayer and read a scripture before each game this year,” Tuttle said. “We help and encourage each other and also prepare each other for things later in life.”
Improving the community
The team and its focus on building faith and character have improved the lives of many players. But it doesn’t stop there. The team actively seeks to better the local community by hosting hockey camps and giving hockey classes. And with every hockey principle taught, a word or an example of living the gospel on and off the ice goes with it.
“We’ve tried to start programs to help kids learn to play hockey and to help the community,” Tuttle said. “With our summer camps we try to make it spiritual and share testimonies with the kids. Little by little, we are having a good effect on the community.”
A team of sacrifice
Past and current players said being on the BYU hockey team isn’t easy, but it is always worth it.
“They sacrifice a lot, both financially and making it work with school schedules,” Burkart said. “After graduation it doesn’t get any easier. You are trying to progress in whatever it is you do. But in the end it’s all the Lord’s work, whether playing sports or in a career. If you live your life the right way, people will see your example, and it will draw others into it and into the gospel.”