Hockey players don’t seem to talk about their faith often. Nathan Lieuwen is different.
Through the ups and downs of a hockey career and the injuries and challenges that come with it, Lieuwen has found what really matters. The goalie was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2011 and played in seven games for the Sabres during the 2013-2014 season. He’ll start this season with the AHL affiliate of the Sabres, the Rochester Americans.
Lieuwen has a faith in God that is constantly growing and has carried him through the ups and downs of a career where he’s dealt with multiple injuries, including a season-ending concussion last year. He learned early on, even before the Sabres drafted him, that he couldn’t look to hockey to bring him fulfillment. And that’s something that is constantly being reinforced through everything he goes through.
“My faith is something that grows all the time, and I think that as I grew up and went to play junior [hockey] and everything like that, I definitely learned a lot of lessons that taught me that,” Lieuwen said. “And just trusting [God] more and more as my career went on, learning more and more about Him and learning how important it is even in hockey.”
Through everything that’s happened, the biggest lesson Lieuwen has learned is that he can trust God no matter what happens.
“Whatever happens, whether it be on the ice or off the ice, I can trust in His plan, and I don’t have to always worry about all the little things,” he said. “I know that He’s got everything in control.”
And that lesson has changed Lieuwen’s view of hockey and why he plays hockey. While it used to just be a game, Lieuwen now believes that hockey is where God has placed him. And if God has everything in control, then Lieuwen can trust that this is part of God’s plan for him.
“I used to see [hockey] as a game, and now I see it as a learning experience,” Lieuwen said. “I feel like this is where God has put me to serve Him. And it really is. This is my service. This is what I do to serve Him.”
And Lieuwen does what he can. He works hard and keeps a positive attitude. During this morning’s practice, when he was reminded that the season is still a week away, Lieuwen replied, “I wish it would start already.”
Lieuwen doesn’t set clear-cut goals for the season, he said, but he has a couple general goals and can’t wait to get back out there.
“Play as well as I can,” he said simply. “Obviously I want to play as much as I can and improve as much as I can over the season.”
Lieuwen made one preseason start for the Sabres this year, a 1-0 loss to the Capitals in which he made 24 saves. Rochester’s first preseason game is Saturday. The Americans haven’t announced yet who will start in goal.
If he does start, Lieuwen said he doesn’t have any unusual pre-game rituals.
“Nothing silly,” he said. “I’m pretty normal.”
When asked if it’s difficult being a Christian in the midst of hockey culture, Lieuwen said yes. But he thinks it’s similar to anywhere else, and any difficulties he’s faced have only strengthened his faith. And it’s gotten easier to trust God over time.
“It’s like anywhere else, where there are both Christian and secular people,” Lieuwen said. “There’s challenging days, and yet that’s part of the growing experience that I’ve gone through as I’ve learned more about God and trusted Him more in those situations. It’s definitely been easier.”
Everyone goes through adversity and difficult situations. Lieuwen’s advice, in addition to trusting God, is to persevere.
“Just keep working at it,” he said. “Never give up. Persevere through whatever you’re going through, and you’ll make it over to the other side.”
That’s what Lieuwen has done throughout his career. And that’s what he’ll continue to do, as God leads him through another hockey season.