It’s 60 paces from Northwest to the top of the stairs.
After that, it’s 15 steps down to the sidewalk that acts as a bridge over the creek, which navigates through Trinity Western University’s back door.
Then, it’s a short jaunt along the side of the David E. Enarson Gymnasium before passing the entrance to the school’s refurbished workout facility.
Finally, it’s 90 paces across the parking lot, past the tennis courts and over the Universiy’s main road to his car.
It’s pretty routine.
Unless it’s not.
On one particular morning, it was Lucas Hildebrand’s road to Damascus.
Hildebrand is a details kind of person.
When close friend and teammate Stefan Gonzales is told that Hildebrand took 45 minutes to sum up his recent journey to faith, the Spartan blueliner pauses for a moment.
“Ahh…you got the Cliffs Notes version,” Gonzales says with a good-natured laugh.
So when Hildebrand is asked about that day and that one life-altering moment that is now 16 months ago, his memory is still vivid.
“It was a Wednesday,” says Hildebrand, recalling that mid-September morning in the fall of 2015. “I was coming from RELS 101 – Introduction to Old Testament Studies.”
Hildebrand had only been a Trinity Western University for a week. Two weeks before that, the Langley B.C. school hadn’t even been on his radar.
After three years at Selkirk College, three seasons with the BCIHL’s Saints and three league championships, Hildebrand quit hockey in the spring of 2015.
His passion for the sport had died. His life away from the rink – a long-term relationship and finishing his degree – took precedent.
Then it did not.
“Things started to fall apart – relationships and school – and it took me to a pretty dark place in the summer,” Hildebrand says. “I was really lost and I was searching for answers and meaning. From that, God was able to bring me to Trinity Western and bring me out of the darkness into the light.
“Looking back, I would have never pictured in my life that I would ever come to Trinity Western. Throughout the summer, God was working in my life and big changes happened.”
Hildebrand had enrolled at Capilano University that September. He was there for a week before dropping out.
“Everything was falling apart and crumbling around me,” he says.
That’s when TWU became an option. It was already a week into September, but the school’s business program was still taking applications. Hildebrand’s older brother, Caleb, suggested Lucas give it a shot. Out of school and with his skates long hung up, he needed to do something, so he made a phone call. An hour later and Lucas had been accepted into the business program. It was strangely simple.
With a refreshed sense of direction in his life, he suddenly uncovered a desire to return to the rink. He emailed Spartans hockey coach Barret Kropf. A 15-minute conversation later and HIldebrand was on the team.
“I thought I would need a tryout or something,” says Hildebrand. “I hadn’t been training or lifting or anything like that. But he just accepted me with open arms.”
That too was unusually easy.
Kropf, however, says the decision was a no-brainer.
“He had a winning pedigree and he was a quality guy and a great leader,” Kropf says. “We weren’t really taking a risk on him in any way, shape or form.”
In school and on the Spartans hockey team, Hildebrand took those first few steps beyond the doors of Northwest. He was pondering life. How had he arrived at this place? How had he been so easily accepted into the business program? How had he found his way back to the rink? Lost in his thoughts, his feet followed his habitual path to his green 2000 Mazda Protégé.
He opened the trunk.
“That’s when it hit me.”
He calls it a revelation.
“In that moment, I could feel God’s presence and I could feel the Holy Spirit come inside me,” he says. “It was almost like having a void in your heart for so many years and then having it filled up and really full. It really blew me away.”
The first person he called was Kropf. Taking a short drive to the Langley Events Centre, he plopped himself on the couch in his coach’s office.
“This Jesus stuff you have here is real and it’s so refreshing,” Hildebrand told Kropf, who, moments earlier, had thought Hildebrand was coming to tell him he was going to quit the team. “I want to know how I can make this part of my life. This is what I need”
A few months later, Hildebrand was baptized in the Pacific Ocean.
“He was a young man lost at sea and not really sure where to go with his life,” Kropf says. “Now, he has that faith flag planted and a purpose in life and I think it’s really rejuvenated him.”
Nearly a year and a half later, Hildebrand sits in a small office. His legs stretch well beyond the small wooden chair provided. He takes a sip from a colourful coffee mug that looks all too small for his 6-foot-4 frame. In a rare scene, his consumable caffeine isn’t mate. His joy emanates through his storytelling.
“I knew that God had been with me this whole time in my life,” Hildebrand says as he details his time since arriving at TWU. “Every single step in my journey – through the bad times and the good times – he’s led me to this point in my life.”
Since that unforgettable morning, Hildebrand has been a different person and a different player.
“Being here and playing on the team, I felt God gave me back the passion to play and the fire and the spirit,” he says. “Before coming here, hockey was the only thing that mattered. Winning was the only thing that mattered. Coming to Trinity Western, Coach Barret teaches us that God has to be put first and God actually gives us this ability and passion to play our sport and we can use it as a platform to reach out to others and to honour and glorify his name.”
The year following his coming to faith proved challenging.
At points in the season, he dealt with both a broken bone in his hand, which he had surgery on following the season, and a concussion.
In testing times, integrating faith and hockey wasn’t always paved with smooth stones.
“I’m still learning that every single day,” Hildebrand says. “It’s been freeing in a sense but also difficult. At the end of the day, our sport doesn’t define who we are. God is the ultimate authority in our lives. But putting that together with sport isn’t always easy.”
It was just over a year after Hildebrand’s parking lot moment when Gonzales – a former teammate from Selkirk College and a two-time BCIHL all-star – arrived at TWU as the Spartans flashy recruit on the blue line. The former Saint to become a Spartan thanks in large part to Hildebrand’s glowing review.
In short order, the two became both defensive partners and close friends.
The veteran players became regular road roommates and it was only after a couple of months at TWU that Gonzales similarly embarked on his faith walk.
“You could see how his growth in his faith is a huge part of his daily life,” Gonzales says. “It’s very present in everything he does.
“For me, I’m always able to use Lucas as a sounding board because he’s coming from a similar place as me in his faith journey. For me, the word I use when I describe Lucas is ‘grace.’ He’s so patient and he’s not quick to respond negatively to a situation. Lucas will often have a calming presence and he leads in that regard.”
On the ice, Hildebrand is the Spartans biggest defensive rock. He’s physically dominant – a near perfect dichotomy of his low-key off-ice personality.
“He’s a physical force on the ice,” Gonzales says. “I don’t think there’s anyone else in our league right now, who takes up as much space as he does as a presence. If you want to go into his space, you will have pay for it.”
He’s the player everyone wants on their team and the one no one wants to play against. He’s TWU’s gatekeeper on the back end. Both friend and foe will remember him.
But as he prepares for the final regular season games of his university career and one last playoff drive, the story of his two years at TWU will be about much more than his on-ice play. He’ll be remembered for the faith journey he took and continues to take and the person he became and continues to become.
Leaning back in his chair, Hildebrand began to tell his story. It started with the RELS class and ended with the Protégé. He paused often to ensure he didn't miss any important details. If he did, he circled back.
He recalled his journey – not only the one from class to car, but the one from Selkirk to Capilano to TWU and all the steps in between.
“I thought of all those things as weird situations at the time,” Hildebrand says.
“Little did I know that was God working in my life and planning all those things to bring me to the point where I am right now.”
He sips on his coffee. He probably wishes he was drinking from a bombilla
Even so, he smiles.
He simply can’t help it when he’s telling his tale.
SPARTAN SPOTLIGHT | MEN'S HOCKEY'S LUCAS HILDEBRAND
It’s 60 paces from Northwest to the top of the stairs.