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Faith Like a Brick Wall

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Brad Thiessen lets God’s light shine through him on and off the ice.

Brad Thiessen chats with the ref.
Photo Credit: John Saraya/Cleveland Monsters

Cleveland Monsters' goaltender, Brad Thiessen is no stranger to success.

While playing for the Northeastern University Huskies in the 2008-09 season, Thiessen stood tall leading the NCAA with 1195 saves which helped him earn “Hockey East Player of the Year” and to be named an “NCAA First-Team All-American”. He fearlessly led the Huskies to their first NCAA tournament in 15 years. While they did not make it out of the regional semifinals it was still a very big deal for Northeastern to get as far as they did.

By the time Thiessen left Northeastern, he was the all-time top goaltender in goals-against average (2.40), save percentage (.922), and shutouts (9).

Thiessen would go on to play in the Pittsburgh Penguins system from 2009-2013. The 2010-11 season was hands down his most successful season as a goalie. Thiessen was named the Eastern Conference's starting goaltender for the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic. He won both the Aldege “Baz” Bastien and the Harry “Hap” Holmes award. As well as, became the third WBS Penguin in history to win 30 games in a single season.

The next season, Thiessen experienced his first taste of the NHL. On February 24th, 2012, he played in his first NHL game for the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. Thiessen played five games for the Penguins that season going 3-1-0-0.

Thiessen spent the rest of his time in the Penguins organization playing for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. In his final season, 2012-13, Thiessen won the Harry “Hap” Holmes award for the second time.

During the 2015-16 season, he played for the Monsters leading up to their Calder Cup run but was sent to the ECHL before playoffs started. Thiessen went down without a fight and helped carry the Cincinnati Cyclones through their postseason run. The Cyclones didn't make it out of the first round but they did push it to seven games.

Knowing his success through the years, many spend their time defining Thiessen by wins and losses. They judge his worth based on awards and shutouts. However, Thiessen does not allow the intricacies of hockey to define his life. His worth does not grow with every save nor does it cease to exist when a puck enters the net. The save which matters most to Thiessen is the saving Jesus did when he died on the cross many years ago.

“It's not about wins and losses and shutouts. It's more about my identity found in Christ.” - Brad Thiessen

Thiessen was born into a family who loves Christ with all of their heart and soul. Growing up his parents were big on teaching their family the bible. They wanted their children to love their faith, to learn all they could about the Bible, and what a relationship with Christ offers this world. So, in turn, their children could be a living word.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields it's fruit in season. Its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.” - Psalms 1: 1-3

As Thiessen grew older, his faith in God grew as well.

Around the 6th grade, the faith inside of him was no longer just his parent's faith. The seed his parents planted as a young child began to grow and take shape within Thiessen.

“I really began understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus and living the kind of like that it entails” - Brad Thiessen

While Thiessen's faith is strong, the compacted hockey schedule can make it difficult to stay connected to Christ. Between travel, games, practices, and fan events there are times when players barely get a chance to breathe. Let alone have the time to see their family or to take a moment to spend in quiet prayer.

When the Monsters are not traveling Thiessen makes every attempt to get to church with his wife and children. During the busiest parts of the season, Thiessen relies on different Bible apps for his phone and videos of sermons that are posted online.

“It takes effort. Sometimes it's hard when you are living this life to make time for it but if you do, it makes a difference.” - Brad Thiessen

Another way Thiessen keeps Christ front and center is on his goalie mask.

During the 2016-17 season, his mask was adorned with three things near and dear to his heart.

The first thing Thiessen holds close to his heart is his family. The names of his children were displayed all over his mask.

The second is Cleveland sports fans. Thiessen was impressed with the way Cleveland rallied around the Monsters during their Calder Cup run in the 2015-16 season. He felt the best way to honor such passionate fans was to pay homage to some of Cleveland's greatest heroes in sports such as Lebron James, Jim Thome, and Jim Brown.

The third, as you have probably guessed by now, is his faith. Emblazoned on the back of Thiessen's goalie mask last season was John 10:10.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy but I have come to give you life” - John 10:10

Thiessen chose this verse as a reminder of the joy God has filled him with throughout life. The season is filled with ups, downs, wins, losses, shootouts, and shutouts. One night the arena could be filled with fans joyously chanting your name and cheering you on. Other nights an arena could be full of booing fans or, even worse, silence. The massive amount of pressure a player, especially a goalie, encounters during the season can begin to weigh heavy upon their shoulders. John 10:10 reminds Thiessen to push all the doubt and fear aside.

“God has given me the talent to play hockey. To go be able to go out there, still have fun, and be a light for him regardless of what's going on. It's just a reminder when I'm looking at my helmet just to kind of have fun with it. I know he's there with me, giving me that joy to play the game.” - Brad Thiessen

This season the Monsters held a contest asking fans to design Thiessen's mask. Around 30 fans submitted entries but only one would emerge victoriously.

Longtime Monsters' fan, Lisa Wallen, designed the winning mask. The top half of the mask featured a brick wall with the Cleveland Monster peering over the top of Thiessen's cage. While the bottom half of the mask displayed Thiessen's number (39) and nickname (Brickwall Brad) surrounded by the Cleveland skyline.

“It encompassed a little bit of everything Cleveland has to offer” - Brad Thiessen

Lisa Wallen meets with Brad Thiessen and admire her handiwork.
Lisa Wallen

While the theme of the mask changed, the faith remained the same.

On the back of this season's mask sits Colossians 3:23.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” - Colossians 3:23

Thiessen finds it important to display his faith on his mask every season in which he plays hockey. The different message each verse encompasses reminds Thiessen of what he's really playing for. That at the end of the day what really matters is how he held himself on the ice. Was he kind? Was he humble? Could others see his burning light? Or did he hide it under a bushel?

“Hopefully, you can make a difference that way and maybe show a little bit of Christ through you to them by what you are doing, how you're handling different situations that come up during the season and your hockey career.” - Brad Thiessen

In the end, he hopes to leave behind a legacy of light and love. One where the character you display on and off the ice matters as much as the results on the scoreboard.