Mar 14, 2023

Over the course of 36 games between October and April, fans pack Wells Fargo Arena to watch 20 players take the ice for the Iowa Wild. 

Behind the scenes, there is an extensive support system to develop the players and help them achieve their ultimate goal of playing in the National Hockey League. Unsung members of the staff behind the team include development coaches, medical staff, athletic trainers, and equipment managers. 

While team staff focuses heavily on developing the players’ hockey skills, it can be difficult for transplants playing in Des Moines to replicate the most important elements of their lives back home. For many players, finding a way to practice their faith can be particularly challenging.  

When the Iowa Wild came to Des Moines, Hockey Ministries International brought forward a special solution for those players; chapel services specifically for members of the team. In the team’s second season, Hockey Ministries International reached out to Brent Osborne to ask him to lead those chapel services. 

Osborne has served the Des Moines community in several capacities and currently works as a Spiritual Care Counselor with EveryStep Hospice. His roles have introduced him to people from all walks of life, but he says that his work alongside Wild players has proven to be particularly unique. 

“I watched hockey and I was a fan of the game, but I learned very quickly early on that there is a lot of nuance in the hockey world and that there was a lot that I didn’t know,” Osborne said. 

Osborne’s knowledge about the game grew quickly as players invited him to attend games. As he led and participated in chapel sessions, he learned even more.  

Chapel is typically held every couple of weeks among players who are interested in faith-based discussion. While Hockey Ministries generally focuses on providing hockey teams with Christian resources, Osborne says he welcomes anyone who wants to participate.  

“I want everyone to have a seat at the table, no matter what they believe. We have guys who grew up going to church and we have guys who never went at all who are coming to check it out,” Osborne said. “Players are on the go all the time and it’s hard to make a consistent commitment. Whether you’re established or kicking the tires for the first time, it’s an opportunity to learn more about faith." 

Osborne normally comes to chapel prepared to introduce a subject, but the players tend to lead the conversation. The discussion rarely, if ever, touches on what happens on the ice. Rather, chapel is often a place where players can find perspective.  

“I try to be someone who reminds them that what they are doing is important, but that there is more to life than wins, losses, and stat lines,” Osborne said. 

Throughout each season, the respect between Osborne and new crops of players grows. He understands that their trust must be earned and regards the opportunity to work with them as a privilege. 

“As you get to know people better, they know that they can trust you and they will open a window into their lives,” Osborne said. “Players go through a lot both personally and in the context of hockey throughout the season and being able to walk them through those things is a huge honor.” 

As the season wears on, many players find it essential to turn to faith and conversation to navigate adversity. With the help of Osborne, stresses such as trade rumors, cold streaks, and injuries become a little easier to deal with. 

One player who has dealt with more adversity than most this season is Mitchell Chaffee. The high-powered scorer from Rockford, Mich. was poised for a breakout season and was riding a four-game goal streak before his season was cut short by a knee injury on Nov. 11 at Milwaukee. Chaffee underwent surgery and is currently working through a grueling recovery process as he seeks to return to form. 

Without the need to skate and travel, the past several months have featured more down time for Chaffee than normal. He has spent some of that time developing the relationships that are most important to him. 

“It’s grown me closer to God in a way, going through this injury and battling through it,” Chaffee said. I’ve grown closer to different people in my life, friends and family. God has a plan for me in my life and I’m going to keep working at it.” 

Chaffee said that he and Osborne have also taken advantage of the opportunity to speak more frequently and learn from each other. 

“Brent is that guy on our team we can always go and talk to, whether it’s about faith or something else,” Chaffee said. "He and his whole family have been there for me, and I can’t thank him enough for the work he’s done for the team. I have a lifelong friend through him.” 

The two already had a strong foundation entering the season due to Chaffee’s role as the main liaison between Osborne and the team, a role he has taken on for the past two years. Chaffee introduced teammates to Osborne at the beginning of the season, schedules chapel, and helps other players get involved.  

Chaffee believes that time spent in chapel has helped him grow closer to teammates. 

“It’s pretty special and I’ve learned a lot about my teammates in chapel,” Chaffee said. “Everyone on our team came from different denominations and grew up in different areas with different lifestyles. I think everyone has their own view and journey that they’ve come to with Christianity and their relationship with God. It’s special to go through and learn about teammates’ different journeys and how He brought them to where they are today.” 

Osborne has watched many iterations of the Iowa Wild roster develop similar bonds through conversations in chapel and said that observing relationships grow has been the most fulfilling part of working with the team. 

“I’ve been blessed to get to know the young men I’ve worked with throughout the years,” Osborne said. “The game is so much more fun when you know people. It makes the wins that much sweeter and it makes the losses sting more because you care about the players playing the game.” 

Osborne hopes that the players he works with recognize the importance of building relationships not only with each other, but also the Des Moines community. He says that he encourages players to think about a bigger picture in which they are providing an atmosphere for parents to connect with their children and for people to fall in love with the sport. 

“When I meet the players at the beginning of each season, I thank them for what they do because they’re a part of the fabric of the city,” Osborne said. “People who come watch the Iowa Wild play may not remember the score of the games, but I’ve sat next to families at games for the first time and watched kids fall in love with the game of hockey. I have tremendous memories with my own kids coming to games and watching them grow up.” 

The developmental nature of the American Hockey League means that roster turnover can be frequent for Iowa. Though the player faces will change, Osborne hopes to be a part of the team for a long time. 

“It means a lot to me as a member of the community and a resident of the city. I didn’t realize the impact that the team had on Des Moines until I became a part of the organization and got a chance to see what they do.” 

Back to All