How hockey saved the life of a young man

Jared Bussell defends his goal against Weber State.
Jared Bussell defends his goal against Weber State. (Courtesy of BYU Hockey)

Jared Bussell starts in the BYU hockey season opener against Weber State as goaltender. As he hears the crowd cheering, he thinks back on his life and realizes how grateful he is to still be playing the game he loves and representing the university he has always wanted to represent.

Looking at him now, you’d never guess what he has been through and how far he has come.

Bussell grew up in Orono, Maine, home of the University of Maine Black Bears, where anyone who is anyone plays hockey. He was no exception and started playing at a young age.

Bussell (left) and Ball (right) as teenagers while on vacation together. (Courtesy of Jared Bussell)

His first experience with BYU was at the age of 10, when he traveled across the country to attend the summer BYU Hockey Camp for youth. He met his longtime best friend, Landon Ball, there, and they loved their experience so much that they decided to be roommates at the following year’s camp.

“We were both really fun, chunky kids, and we loved being loud and crazy,” Ball said. “I think that’s why we really gelled.”

Their relationship would later take them to some of the most trying and most happy times of their lives.

Bussell was brought up in an LDS home and lived a carefree life: playing hockey, attending the Black Bears hockey games and making friends.

At the time, he could never realize just how fast he was going to have to grow up.

His world was rocked at the age of 12 when his mother passed away from cancer, which she had been battling since Bussell was just a baby. They were extremely close, and Bussell felt that a large piece of his life had slipped away forever.

“I was very close to my mom,” he said. “We were the best of friends, and it’s hard to explain what that kind of loss is like.”

His family members didn’t know how to react, and instead of it bringing them closer, it seemed to separate them. His father married a woman in Rhode Island, causing him to be absent as Bussell grew up through difficult teenage years. He lived with different friends and ward members through these years, trying to stay in school and trying to keep going.

During this dark time of practically raising himself, hockey became much more than a hobby. It kept him alive.

“Hockey was my outlet as a kid,” Bussell said. “It was the one thing that was always there for me, and it never let me down.”

His current coach, Ed Gantt, fully recognizes how much of a role hockey has played in his goaltender’s life.

“Without hockey for him to hold onto and provide some stability and focus, he could be in just about any dark place you can imagine by now,” Gantt said.

So, thanks to hockey, Bussell kept going.

As for his relationship with Ball, they decided to keep going to hockey camps together. Because the BYU hockey camp was discontinued, Ball traveled to Maine, where they attended the University of Maine hockey camps together. Each summer, they spent weeks together playing hockey, and Bussell even visited Ball at his home in the Los Angeles area.

It was a large accomplishment when Bussell graduated from high school because in the midst of so many trials in his family, school had never been a priority. As he looked for the next chapter of his life, all he knew was that it would include hockey.

Bussell and his mother. (Courtesy of Jared Bussell)
Bussell and his mother. (Courtesy of Jared Bussell)

He was accepted to play hockey for a Junior A hockey team in Maine, the “Maine Moose,” and he naturally invited Ball to come out and play as well. Ball’s parents decided to send him out to follow his dreams of playing pro hockey.

While they both enjoyed the competitive level of hockey they were playing, they made some poor decisions and were sent back to their respective homes.

“We were alone for the first time as 18-year-olds with a bunch of 25-year-olds with nothing but hockey on their minds,” Ball remembered. “It was a really trying time for both of us.”

The BYU Hockey program had heard about Ball and asked him to play at BYU, and Ball invited Bussell to go out to Provo to play. Bussell talked with the BYU hockey coach at the time and was told a spot on the team was secured for him.

He made the trip out to Utah, showed up for the first day of practice and was told that his position was taken, that he would have to find somewhere else to play. Understandably distraught, he was about to head home when a Utah Valley University hockey player invited him to play for UVU, as they needed a goaltender.

Since he had already made the trip, he decided to play for UVU. Halfway through the season, however, he decided to head back home to Maine because the UVU hockey program was failing and because the environment was negative.

The day he returned home, his longtime girlfriend dumped him, and he was left with practically nothing … again. It was then, in one of the darkest moments of his life, that he felt he was rescued.

Ball had decided to serve a mission and posted a video online of him opening his mission call. While Bussell watched this video, he had a life-changing feeling that he also needed to serve a mission. Without ever before sincerely planning on going on a mission, he set out to do whatever it took to prepare.

“I felt the Spirit so strong, it really seemed to slap me in the face,” Bussell said. “I knew without a doubt that I had to serve a mission and that I needed to go right then.”

He immediately spoke with his stake president and took some serious steps toward going on a mission.

“When I would counsel with Jared, he would do what I asked him to do,” said Hazen Martin, Bussell’s stake president. “I’ve counseled with so many people who come to me repeatedly and never take the counsel I ask of them. That was not the case with Jared.”

With time, Bussell was ready and able to serve a mission and was called to the England Birmingham mission. His experience there, although challenging, changed his life forever. This change was visible to everyone around him.

In his first interview after returning back to Maine, his stake president was amazed with the growth he saw.

“Probably the most positive experience I’ve ever had with any young man coming home was with Jared,” Martin said. “I knew that Jared understood missionary work. He got it at a level higher than most missionaries I know.”

Bussell guards his net at home in the Provo Seven Peaks Ice Arena.
Bussell guards his net at home in the Provo Seven Peaks Ice Arena. (Courtesy of BYU Hockey)

After returning home, Bussell was more motivated than ever to get accepted to BYU and continue playing hockey. It took a lot of time and patience, however, as he had to apply to BYU multiple times before finally being accepted because of his grades in high school.

For Bussell, these roadblocks in his life only made him more grateful to be where he is today: a fully enrolled BYU student, an exercise science major and one of the two alternating BYU hockey goaltenders.

“Ever since my mom died, I realized that I had been dealt a little bit of a tough hand,” Bussell said. “I feel like the Lord has blessed me with a tough life, and you can either embrace it or you can just be negative your whole life and play the victim card.”

Bussell’s attitude is an example for all who experience the unfairness of life.

Major trials in life often turn people bitter, reclusive or angry. For Jared Bussell, his trials have only made him stronger.

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