A Firm Foundation
Guided by his faith, Nate Prosser survived the rocky road of a journeyman NHLer
The Minnesota Wild went through a stretch this winter, going eight games without a regulation win as they stuck an overtime and a shootout victory in the middle of two three-game losing streaks. They weren’t winning and struggled to score goals, losing 5-1 to Vegas on Feb. 9 at home.
Goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury broke his stick during the game, a representation of some of the tension within the team at the time.
“They’re human beings and they feel it and they know it,” said Wild coach Dean Evason, after the Feb. 9 loss. “It’s easy to go in and kick the garbage can over 14 times tonight or come two days from now and scream. What are we going to do? We have to get back to how we play structurally.
“We’ll remind them of all those things and stay as positive as we can. What else are you going to do?”
The Wild eventually turned things around, with a stretch of eight wins in nine games. But former Wild defenseman Nate Prosser, 36, could relate to the kind of stress, pressure and mounting frustrations that can show up in a long NHL season. He shared some of his faith journey, along with Minnesota Wild chaplain Bill Butters, at the Wild’s Faith and Family pregame event on Feb. 28 at the St. Paul RiverCentre. More than 275 tickets were sold as part of the special package.
Faith was his firm foundation, Prosser said.
“I was always signed as a no. 7 defenseman, so I sat out for three, four weeks at a time,” Prosser said. “And you can’t tell me there wasn’t stresses or frustrations with that.”
When it’s a contract year and his hockey skills got rusty while he was a healthy scratch for a month at a time, where would he turn? His faith. He’d hit play on worship music or lean on his wife, Brittani, and her faith to keep him going through his day-to-day grind of the hockey schedule.
Prosser kept himself even-keeled, and always loved showing up to the rink with a smile on his face. Was his team on a four-game winning streak or a six-game losing streak? Couldn’t tell by looking at Prosser.
“I showed up the same way,” he said. “I wanted all my teammates to see that. I loved being the team-first guy that brought our locker room together. That’s what I pride myself on throughout my career.”
That team-first player retired from the NHL in June 2021 after 11 goals and 49 points in 360 games as a defenseman. The Elk River native, who played for the Minnesota Wild for eight seasons, settled back in his home state with his family.
Bill Butters, a former North Stars player, said Prosser was his “go-to guy” for holding chapel with players. Now, there is one “chapel guy” left, Butters said: Marcus Foligno.
“It’s usually guys with big fists and play hard that have a soft heart,” Butters said.
Prosser acknowledged that he liked to chirp and play physical on the ice. But even as a kid, he took on a leadership role growing up in Elk River in a blue-collar, “very church-oriented house.”
“I always had a heart for the broken and the lost and the made fun of,” Prosser said. “Even at a young age.
“I always wanted to be the leader… be friends with those guys and reach out to them.”
That leadership carried over to his hockey locker rooms, a place combined with Christianity “wasn’t like peanut butter and jelly,” because they didn’t go well together, Prosser said.
Starting in high school hockey, the locker room scene was focused on partying and girls, he added. It was important for him to find a group of friends who shared his values. Most of his best friends from high school weren’t hockey players.
Once his career took him to the Wild, he enjoyed eight great years there, calling the signing “a God thing.”
“A guy like me wasn’t supposed to sign a contract with the hometown Minnesota Wild,” Prosser said. “It just wasn’t meant to happen like that. I knew God was going to have his hand in the rest of my career.”
Though Prosser was never the guy at the top of the scoresheet or on the top defensive pairing, he earned the respect of his teammates throughout his professional hockey career. He relished being the guy in the room whom players could turn to and lean on if they struggled in their personal lives, needed to feel like part of the team after getting called up to the big club, or maybe it was a top goal scorer who went eight days without a goal.
“They show up with their shoulders shrugged a little bit,” Prosser said. “I loved to build those guys back up.”
His faith rubbed off on some of his teammates, too. Prosser recalled going to NHL chapel programs, then coming into the Wild locker room and Chris Stewart asking “spit some knowledge at me, Pross. What did you learn in there?”
Prosser obliged. When he did, guys in the room paused from taping their sticks to listen as Prosser spoke about his faith and Jesus. Prosser also had an effect on former Wild player Dany Heatley, who changed his vocabulary around Prosser; he wouldn’t say the Lord’s name in vain around Prosser.
“Talk about having respect,” Prosser said. “That was earned.”
Having been retired from the NHL for nearly two years, Prosser and his family live in Plymouth, and he is coaching 10U, 8U and 6U hockey teams, filling his days with his kids’ sports and activities. One of the things he is most excited about is that he can continue to be faith-driven in his work, which has “been huge in my next chapter of life after hockey.” Everyone struggles with the transition to life post-hockey, he said, so it took him some time to figure out what he wanted to do, along with being a dad to his four daughters under the age of 10.
A few months ago, Prosser also joined True North Equity Partners, a package assembly facility that Prosser is helping to grow.
“They share my moral compass, and my faith,” Prosser said. “That’s what kind of drew me to them.”
He knew all along that being a hockey player was something he did, not who he was.
“I think that was always harped into me a young age,” Prosser said. “My dad always told me, ‘whether you play until you’re 18 or you play until you’re 35, really, what does it matter? It matters what you’re doing for eternity.’