For the last two years, members of Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, have spent their Sunday nights gathered together for fun and fellowship.
It’s a scene played out by many church families across the nation although, in most cases, getting “dressed up” involves a completely different type of sweater – and definitely doesn’t include skates, pads and helmets.
Although the Phoenix Flyers hockey team came together just two seasons ago, hundreds of friends and church members-turned-fans pack Ford Ice Center – home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators Amateur Hockey Association – for every Flyers game.
Remnant defenseman Steve Smith, armed with more than 40 years of playing experience, saw the opportunity to form the Flyers after learning that a few younger Remnant churchgoers played on a team together.
“I thought this could be my longtime answer to a prayer,” Smith said. “In the past, I had told myself that I wouldn’t play on a team again unless it was with my brothers in Christ, as they’d help keep me grounded and help me keep the game in perspective – as it’s just that, a game.”
Non-hockey-playing members of the Remnant church family have gone far beyond just cheering for their friends – the Flyers have held pre-game food-truck parties outside Ford Ice Center. Meanwhile, inside, a Remnant pep band and the team’s mascot, Ash, help keep the crowd pumped.
“Most of the pep band members are teenagers, and many of the players on our team have watched them grow up or grew up alongside them,” Smith said. “It’s a blessing that our kids want to be around us, and often bring their friends along as well. I mean, really, how many teens do you know that willingly give up their Sunday nights to play in a pep band for adult hockey?”
Beyond a common love for the sport, Ford Ice league play has given the Flyers a chance to get to know their opponents as well, whether that’s before, during or after games.
“My hope is that the way we play on the ice and conduct ourselves throughout the season reflects our faith,” Smith said. “No matter the situation, we’re looking for God's lead and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know the other players.
“It's been great to get to know guys in the Nashville area that we wouldn't have otherwise met.”
Ford Ice’s partnership with the Predators allows Ford Ice teams a handful of additional benefits to increase Nashville-area community involvement in the sport, even down to the simplest of social levels – providing teams with post-game pitchers, Predators discounts and end-of-season gifts.
But overall, said Flyers co-captain Brent “BB” Barcus, playing in the Ford Ice league has brought even greater gifting to Remnant team members. On the Flyers, fathers skate side-by-side with sons and, for four team members, including the team’s coach (Larry Sims) go by another name: grandpa.
Spiritually and literally, hockey’s become a family affair for Remnant Fellowship Church. But, regardless of the Flyers’ win-loss record, or how long the team will continue to take the ice, the Flyers will continue to skate with a singular purpose.
“We have a very strong sense of community at Remnant Fellowship Church, and so it is very easy for that bond of community to carry over to hockey,” Barcus said. “On a practical level, I think one of the biggest things we’ve learned as a team and through our church is trusting in how even game decisions play out by God through the authorities – whether that means league decisions or a referee’s call on the ice.
“We’re constantly learning that how we respond, with full respect for authority and without getting bent out of shape about something, is huge,” he continued. “Our shared goal is that every one has a relationship with God, and we know that how we carry ourselves even in a community hockey game is a reflection of who we are.”
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”