Love for hockey leads to icy showdown

Canadian brothers face off in match between BYU, Montana State University

PROVO, Utah — Growing up in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan, brothers Levi and Ben Shugart shared a lot: farm chores, long trips to Weyburn for Church meetings, being the only Church members in school — and a love for ice hockey.

However, being five years apart in age, they never competed on the ice together. That is, not until Levi's Montana State University squad traveled to play Ben's BYU team in Provo's Peaks Arena Dec. 5-6. As equity would have it, Ben scored a goal and had an assist in BYU's 4-0 win Friday, and Levi scored two goals and had two assists as Montana State came back to win 7-1 on Saturday.

Competition overshadowed brotherly love during the games as the two spent considerable time on the ice together. But postgame Friday, the two sat close together at a table outside the rink and cheerfully chatted during a Church News interview.

Their mother and father, Ronna and Chuck, were so excited about their sons playing on the same ice that they got in their car with their youngest daughter, Julie, and drove to Provo for the occasion, picking up the boys' grandfather Gordon Despain along the way. Their grandmother Charlotte Shugart drove in from Palo Alto, Calif. Levi's wife, Jennifer, and some of her family made their way down from Bozeman, Mont. Throw in a few friends who showed up for the game and about the only one missing was the Shugart's other daughter, Jennifer, who is serving a mission in Georgia. The large group, clustered in the bleachers behind the scorer's table, confused other fans as they cheered enthusiastically for both teams.

The Yellow Grass saga of Levi and Ben began before they were born. Their father was raised in Palo Alto, joined the Church while attending Humboldt State University in Northern California, served a mission in Quebec, Canada, and worked summers on his uncle's farm in Yellow Grass. Their mother was born and raised in Lovell, Wyo., of Mormon pioneer stock, and served a mission in Argentina. They met on a blind date at BYU, married, and headed for the bucolic life in Yellow Grass to raise crops and a family.

Church activity, while challenging, was never in doubt for the only LDS family in the town about 50 miles south of Regina. They made their way to Weyland, 20 miles away, for branch meetings. Speaking of his sons, Brother Shugart said with a smile, "In our house, they knew we were going to Church and they went along peacefully."

When the Saskatoon Saskatchewan Stake was split in 2001, their trip to the new stake center in Regina being about three hours closer, Brother Shugart was called as a counselor in the stake presidency.

Levi and Ben said they didn't think much about growing up among so few Church members because they never knew anything different. Their mother said her sons fit in well because of their talent in hockey and baseball. "Because of their sports, they were looked up to," she said.

Levi said growing up in that situation probably "made me better; it probably made Ben better, being the only examples around. We certainly didn't know anything about walking into Church with the neighbors — or about walking to Church."

The brothers' lives took slightly different paths as they grew older.

Levi had a passion for hockey and vigorously pursued the chance to play professionally, ultimately dreaming of the NHL. That goal led him to Bozeman, Mont., in search of a place on a high-level Junior A hockey team. While in Bozeman, he attended institute activities and met Jennifer Olson. He won a spot on the Junior A team in Helena, Mont., 100 miles away. Jennifer showed up there occasionally to watch him play and his fondness for her was one of two factors that altered his life's plan. The other was, he said, "I wasn't as good as I needed to be, not for lack of effort I would like to think. I just wasn't as talented as some of the others."

He gave up his last year of Junior A hockey, moved to Bozeman to attend Montana State University and play collegiate hockey, and married Jennifer in the Billings Montana Temple in 2001. The are expecting their first child next spring and he is serving in the elders quorum presidency of the Bozeman 1st Ward, Bozeman Montana Stake. He will graduate in the spring with a degree in agriculture operations technology. Jennifer said he will pursue a good job in that field to support the family, but they would like someday to be able to return to farming.

"I'm so grateful for the Lord's influence in my life," Levi said. "When I think about it, nothing makes sense. I shouldn't have ended up in Bozeman and I shouldn't have ended up with Jennifer. But I did. And I realize it had nothing to do with me. I was put where I needed to be and things turned out."

Trying to fill his older brother's skates, Ben also became an excellent hockey player, but he had broader interests, his parents said. He was more inclined to spread his efforts around among hockey, farming, school, Church and social life. After high school, he went to BYU and easily sailed through tryouts to make the hockey team as a freshman last fall. Currently, he is focused on finishing the season and two semesters at BYU before going on a mission next summer.

He said he is "more than glad" he made his way to BYU. "I've benefited so much in every aspect of my life just from being here and being around all the influences I have around me. All my roommates are returned missionaries and that's a great influence on me. It makes me even more want to go on my mission."

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