Few experiences in sports are as consistently exciting as playoff hockey. The NHL playoffs culminated Sunday when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks 3–1 to win their first Stanley Cup since 2009. That previous championship run came in star player Sidney Crosby’s fourth year in the league, by which time he had already established himself as one of the game’s best players.
That victory was supposed to be the start of a long and fruitful run that would see the Penguins become a near-annual fixture deep in the playoffs. However, a series of first- and second-round exits, complicated by concussion trouble for their best player, meant that they wouldn’t make it back to the finals until this year. And even that was one of the more improbable runs in recent history.
If you’d told Pittsburgh fans, or even the players, back in December that they’d be holding Lord Stanley’s Cup today, most would have thought you were delusional. When the team fired Coach Mike Johnson on December 12th, they were sitting outside the playoffs while dealing with injuries, an imbalanced roster, and a star player that simply wasn’t a good fit for the previous regime’s schemes. However, once the team’s minor league coach, Mike Sullivan, took over, things quickly began to turn around and those closest to the team credit Crosby for playing an integral role, both on and off the ice, in getting the Penguins to where they are today.
As assistant coach Rick Tocchet told reporters of Crosby’s biggest contributions to the team, “I think his leadership, for me, especially when we called a lot of young guys up . . . I think he really took that to heart. He really wanted to lead these guys.” Tocchet would go on to describe how Crosby made it a point to have the younger players over for dinner and to talk with them throughout the games in order to help them integrate into the team and keep their heads right during their successful run to the championship.
Even with the veteran players, Crosby’s impact extended far beyond the stat sheet. After Commissioner Gary Bettman handed him the Stanley Cup, for example, Crosby quickly passed it to teammate Trevor Daley. Daley suffered a broken ankle in the Eastern Conference Finals and couldn’t play a minute against San Jose but, as ESPN’s Scott Burnside describes, his ailing mother had told her son how much she would love to see him raise the Cup so Crosby made a point of letting him do so. Daley would later say of Crosby “He’s a great hockey player, but he’s an even better person.”
As the cup continued to pass from Daley to former teammate Pascal Dupuis—who was force to retire earlier in the season because of blood clotting issues—and then to injured goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Crosby’s influence became even more clear. As Burnside described, “These things happen because Crosby understands the importance of the symbolism of honoring those players, those teammates.”
Crosby came into the league able to score goals and fill up a stat sheet as well as anyone. However, as he’s progressed and matured over the course of his career, he’s learned how to have an even greater impact on the team’s success through his leadership and, often, simply by his presence.
As Christians, we are called to impact the world in a similar way. Throughout the Bible we find examples of people who accomplished great things for God by simply being intentional about the way they approached their lives. Paul is perhaps the best example of this. Even when Paul and Silas sent him to Athens to essentially keep him from getting into trouble while things calmed down in the places they’d been serving, the Apostle looked for ways to share the gospel with those he met as he spent time in the city. As a result, he would end up preaching before the most erudite and learned men in the intellectual capital of the ancient world (Acts 17:10–34).
Like Paul, our ability to serve God’s kingdom is not limited to one aspect of our lives. He calls us to be ministers wherever his will may lead us and will equip us to fulfill that calling in every facet of our lives—if we’ll let him. You see, that can’t happen unless we are just as committed to serve him at work as we are at church, with our friends as we are our families, and in public as we are in private.
When our mere presence exudes the impact of our relationship with him, God can use us to advance his kingdom in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. That has to start, though, with a commitment to serve him in every area of our lives. Have you made that commitment yet today?