Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Gopher men’s hockey members find themselves through faith

Aaron Huglen, John Mittelstadt and Rhett Pitlick open up about how faith has helped them achieve success on and off the ice and the prominent figures guiding them today.
Image by CJ Bonk
The Gophers started off up two goals in the first nine minutes of the game.

Ice hockey is one of the most grueling sports as it requires an immense amount of both mental preparation and physical dedication. For some players, hockey is so important that their product on the ice has affected their lives off the ice.

Members of the Gophers like Aaron Huglen, John Mittelstadt and Rhett Pitlick said their Christian faith has helped them through tough situations, especially those related to hockey.

Finding faith has helped players differentiate hockey from life

Mittelstadt, a sophomore forward for the Gophers, said he used to struggle with differentiating hockey from his personal life.

“If hockey wasn’t going well, my life wasn’t going well,” Mittelstadt said.

One thing he said helped him overcome this struggle was finding faith. 

Prior to playing for the Gophers, Mittelstadt played junior hockey for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. Before coming to the Gamblers, Mittelstadt said he never really absorbed church sessions growing up.

Before finding faith, Mittelstadt said his love for hockey was his drive to play. Having brothers who also play hockey, younger brother and current teammate Luke as well as his older brother Casey who plays for the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, also influenced him.

That was until teammates Jackson Hallum, a forward at the University of Michigan, and Aaron Randazzo, a former goaltender for Air Force Academy, encouraged Mittelstadt to attend Bible study.

“Eventually, I went [to Bible study] and that was the turning moment for me,” Mittelstadt said. 

He added that, after this moment, his outlook on hockey completely changed and helped improve his game.

“I had the feeling that everything is happening for a reason,” he said. 

Pitlick, a junior forward for the Gophers, similarly said finding faith benefited his view of hockey, adding hockey should not be an end-all-be-all.

“It’s not everything, I think there’s something so much greater than hockey,” Pitlick said.

Huglen, also a junior forward for the Gophers, said faith and God helped him through a back injury he suffered in his senior year of high school.

“It really took away hockey from me and hockey was honestly like an idol in my life,” Huglen said. “Once hockey was gone, that was just the perfect time to really seek [God].”

Since becoming a Christian, his motivation for hockey is no longer self-seeking, Huglen said.

“This has really allowed me to play a lot more free,” Huglen said. “My work ethic – I work hard because God tells me to do everything to the best of my ability.”

Bill Butters and chapel sessions provide life-guiding advice

“The name that comes to my mind is Bill Butters,” Pitlick said when asked about the team chapel sessions.

Bill Butters, once a Gopher player and coach himself, now serves as a “listening ear” for players on the men’s hockey team. 

“I know what it’s like to try to navigate life in the hockey world,” Butters said. “I’ve seen all kinds and I’ve been all kinds.”

When he was a player for the Gophers, Butters said he wished he had someone to help him with the mistakes he made as a freshman. 

Now, after a long career in hockey, Butters is in a position to provide the insight he wishes he had as a player for young hockey players.

“I help them navigate through the situations that I know they’re going to be confronted with because I was in their shoes many years ago,” Butters said.

Butters leads non-mandatory, biblically-based chapel sessions for the men’s hockey team. The discussion in the sessions is facilitated by player input and revolves around the idea of helping players work through hardships in hockey, as well as life.

During the sessions, Butters asks players what they would like to speak about. 

For example, Butters said players might ask him about perseverance. From there, Butters could ask them, “What does it mean to persevere?” Then, through discussion, Butters helps players understand what perseverance means in their personal lives.

Butters said he can help players take ownership of their issues and solve them.

“If you have an issue with someone, don’t talk to someone else about it,” Butters said. “Go to that person.”

These chapel sessions have helped players around the team speak up and resolve their issues, Huglen said.

Mittelstadt said it is hard for men, especially players on the hockey team, to open up about their difficult feelings. 

“I never felt comfortable opening up around people about things I was going through,” he said. 

But, having the opportunity to be vulnerable around a group of people he trusts is a major aspect of the team, Mittelstadt said. 

Learning to be a “man of character”

When he was a Gopher in the 1970s, Butters played under Herb Brooks, one of the most legendary coaches in Gopher history. Butters and Brooks had a moment of vulnerability together that gave Butters a moment of introspection.

“He said, ‘Billy, you’re a character. I hope someday you have character.’ Those comments, to me, stuck in my heart,” Butters said. “What does it mean to be a character; what does it mean to be a man of character?”

Being a “man of character” is something Butters strives to help players learn, not just in a hockey context but also outside of hockey.

Butters advocates for developing positive values and carrying out these values in all settings, not just some.

How Ryan Johnson helped his teammates

Pitlick had a lot of praise for former teammate Ryan Johnson. Johnson played four seasons with the Gophers from 2019 to 2023 and served as an alternate captain last season before moving on to play professionally.

“He leads by example by being pretty much one of the nicest humans ever,” Pitlick said.

Last season, Johnson helped Pitlick onto the path of following the Bible and God. Pitlick said he was led to have an open mind and has since been on a search for truth.

Mittelstadt also said Johnson had a lot of influence on him. 

“He really showed me that I should be proud of my faith and that I should not be afraid to tell people about it,” Mittelstadt said. “It’s changed me in a lot of ways I can’t describe.”

View Comments (4)
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (4)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • David Rajala
    Apr 9, 2024 at 8:36 am

    So good!

  • Mike
    Oct 27, 2023 at 5:31 am

    I love this! God bless you guys! Spread the good Word.

  • Drew Bromley
    Oct 26, 2023 at 3:11 pm

    Amen Gophers!

  • Jack Akiva
    Oct 24, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    Go Gophers 〽️〽️