Star centreman Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets spoke with SEVEN Magazine’s Resident Sport Writer, Carter Brooks, on a wide array of subjects stemming from his life as a Christian athlete, his involvement in the church, and the NHL’s chapel program, while also diving deeper into questions surrounding decision-making and the temptation he faces while attempting to live a God-pleasing lifestyle. The seven-year pro currently has 174 goals and 427 points to his name in 501 career NHL games.
Can you tell me how life as a youngster looked growing up in Kitchener as a Christian?
“It was pretty much church every Sunday. I had an older brother and an older sister, so we had sports and stuff like that, but it was pretty much church every Sunday, and obviously, when we were younger, it was Sunday school or youth group. We went to a Baptist church, Grandview Baptist Kitchener, and it was pretty much church every Sunday – the whole family would go. It was a pretty constant ritual for us.”
As a young athlete, did you ever have any sports-related schedule clashes on Sundays?
“If we had hockey, it would usually take precedence. Obviously, our parents pay a lot of money to put us in sports and to get us through, so we were very conscientious of that. But luckily, we would only have three or four tournaments a year in which we would play on a Sunday. So if we had a game at six or seven o’clock on a Saturday night, we would still be able to go to church in the morning. There weren’t too many services that were missed, but we definitely would go to our sport if it happened to be on a Sunday morning.”
What was the connection to Grandview – were your parents raised in the Baptist church?
“We were actually at a different church when we were really young, and then we moved churches a few years later. It was more so about finding the right fit for our family, and the right community. When we went to Grandview Baptist, we really liked the community; a lot of friends went to that church. My parents also really liked the pastor at the time. It was just a really good fit for our family, and we really enjoyed the services and the messages, and they had a great youth program. So for my brother and sister, it was a good program for us to go to and be with kids our age. It was just the right fit for our family.”
Are you/your parents till members at Grandview?
“Yes, they are still there. Every once and awhile, I am able to get back there. Obviously, I am not home a ton, but I definitely do pop in on Sundays when I am around. When I was home for Christmas a few months back, I definitely was there for the Christmas Eve service. When I am home, I try to get back there as much as I can.”
Did your faith background play a significant role when growing up playing junior hockey and/or while taking your first steps as a professional?
“I think I definitely struggled through junior and even the first year of my NHL career. I wouldn’t say I got away from it – I still had my faith, but I kind of got away from going to church, praying on a regular basis, reading devotions, going to chapel… I’d be lying if I said I was the best in terms of my faith. There was actually a guy by the name of Dave Whitelaw who served an important role in my life. When I got sent down for the second time in Winnipeg I was kind of going through a tough time. My faith kind of took a hit, until I met this Dave Whitelaw. It wasn’t even really chapel, because we didn’t really have many Christians on our junior team or guys that wanted to do chapel, so just the two of us would meet for lunch once a week and just kind of talk. He helped bring me back to my faith and with my struggles, even if they weren’t faith-based. We ended up having a few more guys who would join us for lunch, and we had a good little talking group going there. Since being with Winnipeg, our chaplain Lorne Korol has been awesome for me in keeping the faith strong. We have a pretty good group of guys here in Winnipeg and having that community helps.”
Knowing that you have Him with you no matter what you’re going through, or what you’re struggling with, you can pray and God’s there to help you at all times.
As a young professional in the sporting world, travelling the continent with lots of money at your fingertips, there have to be immense levels of temptation… How are you able to keep yourself on track when living a lifestyle that is very different than your average twenty-something-year-old?
“It is definitely a struggle not to give in to that temptation. I’d say praying is a big one for me, just calming down and saying a prayer. Lorne calls it shooting an ‘arrow prayer’ to God, to help you out in a certain situation or with something you’re thinking about or struggling with. That has helped me a lot; prayer has been a big one. I get a devotion sent to me by
Lorne every day, and that helps a lot. It’s just some sort of lesson or thought put into your mind at the start or end of every day and it kind of keeps you strong, but it definitely is tough. I’d be lying if I said I’m perfect. I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve gone through those growing pains, but Lorne and I talk about it a lot. That clean slate that God gives us is a huge thing. We are able to ask God for forgiveness and be given that clean slate; just having that thought in your mind really gives you a good sense of peace. Knowing that you have Him with you no matter what you’re going through, or what you’re struggling with, you can pray and God’s there to help you at all times.”
You mentioned devotion and prayer as part of your routines – how do they come into play?
“Yeah, I wake up and read the supplied devotion. I find it very comforting to have something to read and have something to think about throughout the day. I think it keeps your mind on that and keeps you humble. It helps you with keeping that faith strong while putting yourself in a good headspace. For prayer, it kind of depends on the last chapel that we had or the past devotion that I read, as I will typically refer back to that. Sometimes it’s just saying thanks, while other times it’s praying for someone. I think that time spent with just you and God is very valuable time to reflect and be yourself with Him.”
What does a typical Winnipeg Jets chapel look like?
“It’s kind of different every time. A lot of guys here have obligations that they must fulfill, both professionally and personally, which sometimes coincide with when we have a chapel. I’d say it’s usually between four and seven guys on our team. Usually, Lorne has a good set of lessons every day and we talk about them. Right now, we are watching a bit of a series, so we watch a 10-minute clip about someone’s journey, reflect on it, talk about it, bringing forth what we think we can take from the video. We obviously also have prayer requests, as we all know someone — whether it be a family member or friend — who is dealing with something, so we pray for them. It’s a very simple thing, but having that community around you, that fellowship, the friendship that you have with those guys, it’s very comforting to have those guys that you can lean on in the tough times, but also share that joy with you in the good times.”
How often do you get together for your team chapels?
“Usually, we try to get together once a week. Depending on our schedule, some months can be much trickier than others, but I’d say we for sure meet up once every two or three weeks. Then again, just looking at our January schedule, where we were home for an extended period of time, we had two chapels in one week, so it does vary a bit according to our schedule.”
In playing a contact sport filled with aggression, do you keep your faith separate from your on-ice actions? How do you justify playing contact sports as a Christian athlete?
“In our minds as athletes, I don’t think anything we do out there is done in a malicious way. Much like in football, it’s not done in a way of hurting someone or trying to injure someone. We’re not acting maliciously at all; it’s more out of passion. Our actions tend to come from the passion and love of the game. That’s kind of why it’s happening, and that’s how I think Christian athletes are able to deal with it, as it’s out of love for the sport. With the platform that athletes are given, you really are able to shine your light in that way.”
Is there anyone whom you try to model your mindset or behaviour after, or someone whom you think deserves some credit for helping shape the way you are?
“I’d just say it all comes back to my family. My parents, my brother, my sister—they are the ones I really look up to. They are the ones I rely on in those times. I think it was just the way I was raised. I am really lucky to have grown up with the parents that I have had and the brother and sister that I have to support me and help me through the good and the bad times. I owe it all to them.”