Capturing the Cup**************
By Susie Magill
Offense wins games, defense wins championships. Every athlete and coach has heard and probably used this phrase. But that doesn’t change the fact that a productive offense generally overshadows defensive success. Both fans and media tend to focus on one thing: points scored. But after the Carolina Hurricanes’ final rally in game seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, no one could deny the defensive presence. After all, it was the perseverance and calm leadership of blueliner Glen Wesley that helped clinch the win and allowed him to finally raise the Stanley Cup – something he’d waited 18 years to do.
"You wait 18 years and a thousand games. It is an incredible feeling..."
Growing up in Canada, Wesley – like many northerners – began his hockey career before he began his formal education. By age 5 he was already dreaming of a championship. “I was one of those kids who dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup,” said Wesley, the Hurricanes’ alternate captain. “That is one of those things we strive for as players when we are young, to be able to win a championship. You play your whole career to be the best in the world, and the Cup is the pinnacle of our sport.”
In his then 18-year career, Wesley had made three Cup Finals appearances, leading all active players in post-season games played without a title.
Fourth time’s a charm.
According to Wesley, the timing was just a matter of God’s work having to be completed before His glory could be fully revealed through the victory.
Midway through his NHL career, Wesley found himself at a crossroad. His wife, Barb, had lost her mother to cancer, which caused her to re-evaluate her priorities and rededicate her life to Christ. Shortly after, Wesley’s father passed away due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). It was then that Wesley accepted an invitation from Barb to join her at church. He received Christ as his personal Savior soon after.
“God was giving me a wake-up call,” he said. “I knew if I wanted to have eternal salvation, to be able to be with Christ one day and see my dad and my mother-in-law, I had to take that next step.”
Since taking step one, Wesley has continued to take bigger strides in his relationship with Christ. He and his wife have joined a church in the Raleigh (N.C.) area, and both are actively involved. Barb sings in the choir, and Wesley recently accompanied the youth group on a mission trip to Italy. He also feeds himself daily by reading his Bible, praying and finding other Christians to challenge him.
Says Wesley of the importance of having a church body, “I have met friends I can be accountable to. I love having that, and God has put those guys in my life for a reason. I am very grateful.”**************
Weight: 207 lbs.
Birthplace: Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
NHL Draft: Boston, 1987
A solemn expression appeared on Wesley’s face as he skated onto the ice during the game seven warm-up. Playing a total of 1,479 career games to that point, it had come down to the final match against the Edmonton Oilers, who were fresh off a win in game six. The series was tied 3-3. Wesley recognized his chance to make history – to bring about a first for both him and the Carolina franchise and to bring glory to his heavenly Father.
While his teammates continued to skate around him, Wesley stopped in front of the blueline and slowly lowered his head. He closed his eyes and recited Deuteronomy 31:6. “Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”
“That is a very powerful verse – a verse that I rely on no matter what the challenge,” explained the 6-1 defender. “We are going to be put in situations where we may not be comfortable, but God is going to be there to give us the strength to overcome.”
And overcome he did. As a standout defenseman, Wesley is known for killing penalties, shutting down other team’s top players and sacrificing his body to block pucks. Having come in second on the team in blocked shots that season (56), Wesley was forced to leave the ice after taking two shots to the same knee.
“When he came off the ice and didn’t go back in on the next line change the fans were visibly concerned,” said Jim Branch, Vice President of the East Central North Carolina FCA Board, who was at the game. “His knee must have been blistered after two pucks hit him at 100+mph. Everyone knew he was hurting.”
But being “strong and courageous,” Wesley fought through the pain and re-entered the game.
“That’s perseverance,” said Branch. “Perseverance develops character, and character gives us hope. I could see in Glen, as he blocked those shots and came back, that he persevered through the pain. Those two blocked shots and his leadership back on the ice gave the team hope.”
“I know my role,” offered Wesley regarding his leadership on the team. “I want to be an example out there, and that example is formed by working hard both on and off the ice. I think that is one of the best things I can do as a player – to continue to strive to get better even where I am in this stage of my career.”
Hurricanes’ President and General Manager Jim Rutherford agrees. “Glen has been a fixture on our blueline for many years,” said Rutherford, who recently signed Wesley for another year. “His leadership and reliability are very valuable to our team.”
The value of Wesley’s passion and leadership on the ice became clear, as it helped limit the Oilers to just one goal in game seven, giving the ‘Canes the 3-1 win and the title.**************
Finally, after years of dreaming, Wesley had his moment on the ice. He hoisted the cup high over his head as the crowd’s deafening roars echoed throughout the arena. It was a moment to savor.
“It is hard to describe in words,” said Wesley. “You wait 18 years and a thousand games. It is an incredible feeling – something you strive for your entire life – and then it happens. All the emotions, just letting them out. Winning it all.”
Photos courtesy of Gregg Forwerck/Dave Pond/Carolina Hurricanes
Wesley’s leadership and example aren’t limited to the ice. Branch has seen Wesley take the same role in street clothes. The two met by attending the same church when visiting the North Carolina beach
“Glen is a quiet individual who leads by example, not only on the ice, but personally,” said Branch. “He is a man of character who reflects Christ. You know he loves to play hockey, but he also loves his family and loves the Lord.”
And Wesley loves to share all three with FCA and the community, taking time to give his testimony at FCA Huddles in the Raleigh area.
“You hear about pro athletes who tag on a Christian name and then talk about anything but Christ, but Glen is the real deal,” said Raleigh’s FCA assistant area director, Scott Williams, of Wesley’s talk with the Huddles. “He presents a clear and accurate testimony of what his life was before Christ and what he’s now doing for the Lord. When I first heard him speak, I remember walking away being encouraged by what God has done in and through him.”
Wesley’s platform with the Hurricanes has provided instant credibility, which is something he doesn’t take lightly. “I love working with youth and think being an example to young adults is important. Giving them a great foundation and being there to support and challenge them is one of the best and most rewarding things you can do.”
Day with the Cup
Staying true to hockey tradition, Wesley spent quality time with the league’s most prestigious trophy, the Stanley Cup, post-championship. But it wasn’t enough to experience the Cup by himself, he had to share. So, the Wesley family (wife Barb, daughter Amanda and two sons, Josh and Matthew) along with the Cup traveled to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to visit Marines in the Injured Support Unit barracks.
“To be able to have that time with the soldiers was one of the highlights of my life,” said Wesley. “It was an incredible experience to have the opportunity to see what they really sacrifice and do for us as Americans.”
But when Lord Stanley is your passenger, one stop is never enough – as long as your passenger doesn’t mind being used as a utensil. Beating the summer heat, the Wesleys indulged in a little ice cream using the cup as a giant bowl.
The family finished their Cup tour with one final stop at their church. More than 1,000 church members joined the Wesleys in celebration. Fans in attendance were part of a church-sponsored meet-and-greet session complete with photo opportunities and a Glen Wesley Q&A session.
Said Wesley, “Raleigh is not only a great place to play, it is a great place to raise a family and live. And at church I have true friends with whom I can fellowship.”