David Booth grew up in a Christian home, his parents Lutheran, in the suburbs of Detroit.
He forged his own relationship with God at 18, in Colorado. The moment came after Booth had scored nearly a point a game in his freshman with the Michigan State University Spartans, a season of change for a young man whose sporting potential was suddenly in bloom.
In Colorado, Booth attended an intense annual camp put on by the Athletes in Action sports ministry. The camp’s aim is to coach young athletes on the Bible’s lessons as they apply to the playing-field matters of motivation, adversity, losing and winning.
The week concludes with 24 consecutive hours of sport, the campers split into teams. The final event comes as individuals labour up a steep climb on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, carrying a large beam, on a hill nicknamed “Golgotha” – the name of the site where Jesus was said to have been crucified.
“Coming up that hill, it’s just like, ‘Man, I’m done,’ “ Booth recalled in a recent interview. “If I rely on my own self, I’m not going to make it very far in my life. So that was the time when I realized, yeah, I’ve got to make some changes, and gave my life to Christ.”
Wednesday, when the Vancouver Canucks play Game 1 of their first-round, best-of-seven series against the Los Angeles Kings, marks Booth’s first NHL playoff game. Booth toiled his first five seasons for the lowly Florida Panthers before a trade last October brought him to Vancouver.
Booth was expected to bring the Canucks some goal-scoring punch, but he has yet to really deliver. He is part of a long-struggling second line, centred by boyhood teammate Ryan Kesler.
How Booth and the second line fares will be crucial to the Canucks’ success this spring, starting with Los Angeles, its formidable defence and Vézina Trophy-calibre goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Booth – a fitness and weight-lifting devotee – did score 31 goals in his third season (2008-09), but a nasty concussion in late 2009 jarred his career trajectory (the blow coming on a blind-side hit from Mike Richards, then with Philadelphia, now with L.A.).
With Vancouver, Booth potted just 16 goals in 56 games (while missing 18 because of a knee injury). In a terrible slump that began in mid-March, he scored no goals in 10 consecutive games. But, with 10 minutes left in the regular season last Saturday, Booth scored an electrifying power-play goal, taking a drop pass and beating three Edmonton Oilers defenders before putting the puck home.
Several days before the dazzling goal, Booth demonstrated poise that is underpinned by his faith. Wrestling with his slump, and a season falling short of personal expectations, Booth said he drew strength from the fact “[my]worth is not based on how [I]play.”
“It’s not what makes me a human being,” he said.
The Canucks winger is no Tim Tebow, the New York Jets quarterback whose regular expressions of faith, and improbable football comebacks, made him a massive celebrity last year. But Booth, 27, is never shy to cite the central role of faith in his life. On Twitter.com last Sunday, he broadcast an Easter message. In late March, also on Twitter, Booth posted a video of a Christian gathering at the Rogers Arena, where the pastor led a prayer for then-injured Canucks star Daniel Sedin.
God, Booth tweeted, is “Awesome in power! Want to thank the 14000 people praying for my buddy!”
“I never really thought I’d be playing in the NHL,” Booth said last week. “God’s given me this gift for a reason, and it’s to proclaim His word.”