Every Thursday for 20 minutes Paul Golden helps guide some of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins players.
But Golden doesn’t talk Xs and Os, special teams or really anything that has to do with their play on the ice. He leaves that up to head coach Clark Donatelli and assistant coaches Chris Taylor and J.D. Forrest.
Instead, Golden helps coach the players through the ups and downs of life.
Golden, who is the executive director at Clarks Summit University, is also a volunteer chaplain with Hockey Ministries International, a Montreal-based organization that provides non-denominational chaplain services for players on hockey teams at every level.
Golden has served as the chaplain for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton since 2011, beginning with former Penguin players Brad Thiessen, Eric Tangradi, Steve MacIntyre and Bobby Farnham.
Each service includes a discussion on a particular Bible verse, prayer requests and a open dialogue where players can discuss any concerns they’re dealing with on or off the ice.
“Having a service once a week, for 20 minutes, gives them a break from hockey and a chance to talk about the Bible and life in general,” Golden said. “A lot of people just view them as athletes, but they are like everyone else. They have personal tragedies and challenges like everyone else.
“You might not see it on the scoresheet, but life happens to them just like it does to you and I.”
One player is designated to serve as chapel liaison each season, coordinating with Golden to set up chapel times around busy practice and travel schedules. Barry Goers handles the coordination for this year’s team, and as many as 10 Penguins attend the weekly service.
Goers said the weekly chapel service, which Golden holds in an auxiliary locker room at the Toyota Sportsplex, is the only way many of the players can attend a church service.
“It really means a lot to us that Paul takes the time to travel down from Clark Summit and do this. It really helps bring that focus back to what’s going on in your life away from the rink,” Goers said. “It’s really important to keep that perspective.”
Golden said each season it’s usually the veteran players that coordinate the service and that compels some of the younger players to participate. He mentioned Tom Kostopoulos as one of the chapel attendees who likely influences his younger teammates to join in.
“Tom Kostopoulos is a legend here and he has a presence. When the younger guys see that he values chapel, that helps it grow,” Golden said.
Kostopoulos said perhaps his attendance at the service does motivate younger players to join in, but that’s not his motivation.
“I like going for myself. It’s 20 minutes where we can get our minds off hockey and the intensity of the season, and just talk about life and faith,” Kostopoulos said. “Sometimes it’s good for guys to realize there are more important things than hockey.
“There’s no pressure on anyone and it’s just good to talk about life away from the game.”
Golden is accessible to the players at any time outside of the service and said he often gets texts from a player who has just gotten called up to Pittsburgh, or sent down, or sometimes just to talk when there’s a concern about a family member. Sometimes he gets a call from a young player who is homesick or is having problems adjusting to life on their own.
“All the guys have my cell number. Sometimes a guy will stop me in the hallway and ask to talk about a personal issue,” Golden said. “That could be anything from a family member fighting cancer or a concern about their career. It’s something that I discuss just with them and I never betray the confidence of a player.”
Each chapel service concludes with Golden handing out fresh-baked treats sent by his wife and an open discussion about that day’s sermon or any other topic on a player’s mind.
While Golden admits he knew very little about hockey when he began the chapel service six seasons ago, it’s a special feeling when one of the players finds success at the next level.
“You feel like you’re playing a small role in helping these guys,” Golden said. “These players always get asked for appearances and autographs, so it’s nice to give them something without strings attached. I’m a fan in wanting to see them succeed.”
Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith reflects during the team’s weekly chapel service.
Volunteer chaplain Paul Golden discusses a Bible verse with Penguins players during the team’s weekly chapel service.
Chaplain Paul Golden hands Casey DeSmith one of the baked goods from his wife at the end of the team’s weekly chapel service. Players have the opportunity to attend a church service once a week after practice at the Toyota Sportsplex.