Thursday, Feb 27 2014 11:34 PM

Condors' Steffes eager to share story of redemption with fans

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    The Condors' Gary Steffes sets up a shot during the first period against the Alaska Aces Monday afternoon at The Rabobank Arena.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    The Condors' Gary Steffes take a shot on goal during the first period against Las Vegas at Rabobank Arena.

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    By John Harte / Special to The Californian

    Condor Gary Steffes tries to get to the puck ahead of Danick Paquette during the first period against Utah at Rabobank Arena Friday night.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bakersfield Condors hockey player Gary Steffes gives the keynote address during the Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast held Thursday at the Rabobank Convention Center.

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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer

One can bet that no matter the outcome of tonight's game, Condors forward Gary Steffes will have an uplifting message at Rabobank Arena.

Steffes and fellow teammates Collin Bowman and Andrew Carroll will share their story and mission to fans as part of Faith and Family Night following tonight's game against Colorado.

Related Info

Tonight's game

Colorado at Condors

7 p.m. at Rabobank Arena

Radio: KHTY (970 AM)

Record: Eagles 26-16-6-4; Condors 25-22-1-3

Series: Bakersfield is 1-1-0-0

Notes: With forward Ryan Watson and defenseman Travis Gawryletz ready for action, Condors coach Troy Mann said he will start rotating bodies. Watson will likely play tonight with Gawryletz seeing action on Sunday. ... The Condors have won three straight and are 8-2-0 over their last 10.

Hockey is a big part of Steffes' life -- after all, he is a third-year pro -- but it's no longer the center of it. That changed for him late in his sophomore year at Miami (Ohio) University.

"It was my worth, my value," Steffes, 26, said. "My significance was completely tied to what the hockey world thought about me: what my coach said about me, what my teammates thought about me."

Then he was sat as a healthy scratch for the first time in college. Then he sat some more, and some more. All of a sudden, the world around him was crumbling.

"It was like pulling my heart out of me," he said. "Pulling away this identity I had. I felt like an utter zero. An absolute kind of worthless man."

A practicing Catholic as a youth (at least on Christmas and Easter, Steffes noted) he did something totally out of character for the time.

"For first time in my life I fell to my knees and asked God for help," he said.

Shortly after that he attended an Athletes in Action meeting. It changed his life.

Faith a priority

Steffes says that his faith is the most important aspect of his life now.

"I love hockey, I love it with every fiber of my being," he said. "(Hockey is) incredible and a deep passion of mine. But at the end of the day there are more important things than hockey."

His faith, he said, has put everything into perspective, and he's trying to have as much of an effect off the ice as he does on it.

"You job doesn't define you," he said. "There's more beyond that. Your impact on your family and community is way more important.

"(Hockey is) my tool to impact the community. My tool to honor God because it's a deep passion of mine. A tool to build relationships with (his teammates) and bless people."

Trying to be a workhorse

On the ice, Steffes is sixth on the team in scoring with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 41 games.

"He's a multi-dimensional player in terms of helping us out in all areas of the game," Condors coach Troy Mann said. "He's certainly a guy with a tenacious work ethic, which is probably his best strength.

"He brings an energy, is most effective when moving his feet and has contributed on both ends of the ice."

As for his own assessment, Steffes sees himself as guy who brings energy to the table and can contribute in various ways: a big hit, on the penalty kill, on a power play, winning a crucial face off or dropping the gloves and fighting.

"I just try to bring energy and be a tenacious workhorse," Steffes said. "Hopefully that inspires my team and I can be a servant to these guys that way."

Spreading the message

Off the ice, Steffes has been spreading his message. He was the guest speaker recently at the Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast.

"Unbelievable," he said of the experience. "I was so honored. So blessed. Who am I to be able to do that? It was crazy. I'm so thankful to be called to do that, that people would want to listen to me and encourage Bakersfield. That was really, really awesome."

Since then, he's become a sought-after speaker in town.

This week alone, he had speaking engagements on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

"If my story can impact a young kid or another person, praise God. I'd love to share," he said.

Mixing sports and religion

Asked how he can mix hockey --which can be violent and a bit nasty --with his faith, Steffes said the two actually work well together, noting that Jesus was actually the ultimate warrior.

"(Jesus) gave his life on the cross," he said. "He whipped some serious tail and the greatest enemy we could ever face. For me, as a hockey guy, I get to live out this heart of a warrior that God gave me but I'm passionate about doing it it honorably.

"You can play, you can compete, you can hammer guys and you can stand up for your teammates and fight but you can do it honorably."

Honorably, he said, is playing fair and not cheap.

"If I'm skating around trying to hurt guys, intentionally crosschecking in the nose, whacking and slashing them in the throat, hitting guys from behind intentionally trying to injure people, that's entirely dishonorable," he said. "I'll fight hard, will hit you hard. I will battle my tail off for sure. But I will do it within the rules."

Tonight, Steffes gets to be both warrior and messenger in the span of a few hours.

"I'm pumped up about that," he said.

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