Brad Larsen – A Story of Hope and Healing

What does one do when waiting in a long line to see an orthopedic specialist?

For Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach, Brad Larsen, the answer was this: begin a battle against cancer.

In 2007, Larsen was waiting for an appointment with the orthopedic specialist for the Atlanta Thrashers.  While he was waiting, he saw a dermatologist who had nothing do to.  For no other reason than the simple fact that he had never been to a dermatologist before, Larsen decided to give it a shot while he waited.  On his upper back, the doctor noticed a troubling spot.  He ran some tests.  Within two days, Larsen was diagnosed with melanoma and had emergency surgery to have it removed. Larsen hadn’t planned on seeing the dermatologist that day – but that visit likely saved his life.  Looking back on it later, Larsen told Brian Hedger of told the Columbus Dispatch; “it was just by the grace of God that I [saw] him.”  After the surgery, Larsen was able to get back on the ice and continue to play for the Thrashers.

Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach, Brad Larsen, during his time with the Atlanta Thrashers. Photo by Keith Allison

It wouldn’t last.

At the end of the 2007-2008 season, Larsen was traded to the Anaheim Ducks.  He never, however, played a game for Anaheim, as he was diagnosed with hip and sports-hernia, which caused him to the miss the entire season.

For the 2009-2010 season, Larsen found himself down a level, playing for the Portland Pirates of the AHL.  Larsen had a great season, notching both 13 goals and 13 assists and helping lead the Pirates to the playoffs, despite suffering a severe concussion and a broken foot during the season.  Those maladies, however, were the least of Larsen’s troubles.

Larsen explained; “I’d felt a lump on one of my testicles and I was like, ‘I’d better get this checked out.’  I went in right before the playoffs and the doctor checked me out. He said he was about 95 percent sure this was cancer.”  He had surgery as soon as the playoffs ended.

Following surgery, Larsen would go on to receive three weeks of radiation.  It was one of the most challenging things he’d ever gone through.  His wife, Hannah, told the Dispatch; “I’d seen him go through all the hockey injuries and surgeries. There was recovery time, but it never fazed him. Nothing ever took him down. He went for the first radiation treatment, and he came home … I mean, he was pale, yellow, green, and I’d never seen him like that from anything. So, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is the first one.’ ”

A hockey player known for his ferocity and toughness, Larsen battled cancer with the same vigor he demonstrated on the ice.  He recalls; “When you’re the one going through it, you just deal with it.  You meet it head on and you tackle it. You almost want to downplay stuff because you don’t want other people worrying about it. I was so lucky with Hannah, my wife, how great she was with me, but your family goes through a lot. They really do.”

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Throughout Larsen’s career – someone has been working behind the scene.

Larsen only discovered he had melanoma ‘by the grace of God’ and an unplanned visit with a dermatologist.  Looking back at it now, it’s clear that that wasn’t the only way that God unexpectedly intervened in his life.

After playing parts of 8 season in the NHL, Larsen’s goal wasn’t to play in the AHL.  After being traded from Atlanta to Anaheim, Larsen had his sights set on being a Duck.  It’s a good thing he never become one.  In the 2009, after losing his spot in Anaheim, Larsen latched onto the Portland Pirates, who, at the time, were the AHL affiliate for the Portland Pirates. 

His time in Portland changed his life.

Larsen had never been what you would call “a man of faith.”  The trials he had faced with cancer, injuries, and his crumbling career had left him searching for meaning in it all.  One day, a fellow Pirate invited him to attend a chapel service.  He joined a small group of players who shared their struggles, their stories, and the Scriptures.  Larsen would never be the same.  On May 22, 2011, experienced what he calls “the greatest day of my life,” when he was baptized into the faith.

Larsen told Hockey Ministries International; “The Bible has changed my life. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. The more I read it the more I am truly humbled and amazed at what an incredible God we truly have. He helps guide me through daily life with His word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read during my morning quiet time and just how relevant it was to my day. Trust me I get it…..we are busy, tired, think we have more important things to do, lazy……always an excuse not to read at times. But I can honestly say when I DON’T read my Bible I tend to “drift”…..drift away from the living God that leads and guides me.”

One of Larsen’s favorite Bible Verses is Joshua 1:9 which says: Be strong and courageous!  Do not be discouraged or dismayed. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Larsen says; “I repeat that verse a lot in my own mind quite a bit. God has called me to be strong and fearless…..He is with me ALL THE TIME.  Not just in an emergency or when things are great……. but ALL THE TIME. It has been a great reminder for me that God is alive and with me no matter what. Amen to that!  …My life has been absolutely transformed. I owe everything to God and his loving words in the Bible. Trust me when I tell you that I’m no Bible scholar or have memorized every verse….what I can tell you is I’m a sinner, I’m flawed, I’m  not worthy of His love……BUT……by Gods incredible grace….love…..and forgiveness He walks beside me and let’s me know that I AM worthy of His love. I’ve been humbled by His love and will never be able to repay Him for that….but as each day goes on I will try my very best to do Gods work to the best of my ability through His guidance.”

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After retiring from his career as a professional hockey player, Larsen has continued to lead and inspire other players.  In August of 2010, he became an assistant coach for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL for two seasons.  Following his time as an assistant, he was promoted to head coach for two more.  Larsen then moved up to the NHL, where he was served as an assistant coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets since the 2014/2015 season.  Larsen’s story of strength and perseverance has been an inspiration to many – and he knows that it all came from the Lord!

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