BY GREG OLIVER
Mentoring came easy to Bob Froese, almost as easy as a kick save. In 1989-90, his final season, the New York Rangers asked him to look after their prize pupil, Mike Richter. Froese hadn’t had a roomie in years, but the two goalies bunked together and Froese passed on his knowledge. In short, he prepared Richter to take his job.
Helping the next generation is a role he embraced toward the end of his career. “I would be spending time with the young guys – that was my responsibility,” Froese said. “I was good at it. I encouraged these guys to get them to play hard. At the same time, I warned them about the dangers and gave them the hope of keeping your nose clean, your life in order.”
It’s a talent that led him into his next career as the pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Clarence, N.Y. After his 18 years as a goalie – struggling with bad junior teams (St. Catharines Black Hawks and Niagara Falls Flyers), getting thrust into the spotlight in Philadelphia following the fatal car accident of Pelle Lindbergh in 1985, playing backup with the Rangers and acting as a goalie coach on Long Island – Froese broke away from the game. He was raised Mennonite Brethren in St. Catharines, Ont., and after hockey he earned a B.Sc. in religion from Liberty University, then a master’s degree in religion at Liberty’s Baptist Theological Seminary and finally a doctorate from Trinity Theological Seminary. In Froese’s eyes, the two professions aren’t as conflicting as one might think. “I became a pastor and I’ve got my PhD in biblical counseling,” he said. “But I cut my teeth in the locker room.”
Motivational speeches can be parlayed into sermons and with 242 NHL appearances, Froese has a lot to draw upon.
He recently got to speak in Denver for a group of biblical counselors and shared details of his second season with the Flyers. He was in great shape physically following a pretty good rookie season and was armed with a fresh four-year contract with Philadelphia. But things didn’t go as planned initially. “I couldn’t stop a beach ball,” he said. “We had round-robins in the first week of camp and probably the third day in, I’m telling you, I was Swiss cheese. I was frustrated to the hilt.”
That carried over into the season until then-GM Bobby Clarke took him out for lunch. Froese had lost his focus and Clarke pointed out the differences in the goaltender from his rookie season. “He said, ‘The referee would be flipping the puck in his hand, waiting to drop it and your eyes would just be going up and down, wherever that puck was,” Froese recalled. “ ‘Now you’re concerned about where the TV cameras are, where the fans are. You’ve got your eyes on what the defensemen are supposed to be doing, all these different things.’
“He handed me a puck across the table and said, ‘All I want you to do is just keep your eyes on this thing.’
Froese took Clarke’s advice, kept his eyes on the puck and turned his season around, finishing fourth in wins (28) and fifth in goals-against average (3.14). It is lessons like those that he has taken into life after hockey as a pastor. “To me, it’s easy to parlay that as a Christian – you keep your eyes on Christ,” Froese said. “It is so easy to get your eyes off on all these other window-dressings. Just do what you’ve been called to do.”
For more great analysis, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.