In the back streets and alleys of Detroit, Michigan, John Vanbiesbrouck learned how to defend himself from the big guys with sticks.
Almost every day his older brothers would place him in front of a hockey net and fire blistering slapshots at him. "They both wanted to beat me up, which led to shooting things at me." Laughs John. "I guess that's where the goalie in me came out."
Protecting himself from his brothers' screaming shots turned John into an outstanding goaltender. He soon found himself with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey league and then the New York Rangers as a fourth round draft pick. Despite a slow start (his first year in the NHL he only saw ice time once), John played for 10 years in New York and at one point was even named the league's top goalie.
"Everything was great." He recalls. My schedule was packed with games to play and places to go. My wife Ros and I had it all family, a house and success."
But then John's life began to unravel. His brother committed suicide. His oldest son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and he left a team he'd grown to love for an expansion team - the Florida Panthers.
"Life's challenges began right then and there," says John. I was afraid and I had lots of questions. When you go through trades and personal traumas, you don't know how you're going to come out of it." John was desperate so he turned to God. "My faith in God has given me a strength that I was searching for and never had," he says.
The faith that held him up in the tough times now gives him peace in the crease. "I can go out there and do the best I can," he says, "and if I fail, I fail. I've learned that in the eyes of God, I've done my best. That's what matters most."
With that attitude John helped lead the Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996 and put him in the net for the 1998 U.S. Olympic team. Now, after signing as a free-agent, he plays with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Everyone thinks if you're a Christian, you're weak or you're a feeble competitor." Says the all-star goalie. "It's just the opposite. I know I'm stronger that I've ever been, I'm more determined than I've ever been and I know that will reflect in how I play."
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