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Miracle on Ice a family affair for Nelson

Islanders forward is nephew of Christian, who won gold as defenseman on 1980 U.S. team

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Brock Nelson was born more than 11 years after the Miracle on Ice transpired in Lake Placid, New York, but he's had a front-row seat for some of the better stories from when the United States men's hockey team won the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Nelson, a center for the New York Islanders, is the nephew of Dave Christian, who won gold with the United States that year before going on to play 1,009 NHL games over 15 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

Christian, who played forward in the NHL but was a defenseman at the Olympics, is the brother of Nelson's mother, Jeri.

"I have a couple of pictures from when I was younger and got to put [his medal] on and wear it around a bit," Nelson said. "It was pretty cool."

But the lineage doesn't end there. Nelson's grandfather, Bill Christian, and great uncle, Roger Christian, helped the United States win the gold medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Another great uncle, Gordon Christian, played for the United States in 1956.

The 1960 team is the only other one to win gold for the United States. 

"Once for show and tell, I took a picture of [my uncle's] medal and my grandpa's medals," said Nelson, a native of Warroad, Minnesota. "It's pretty cool having that and seeing that. Knowing the significance of it, it's special."

Nelson was 12 when the movie "Miracle" was released in 2004, which documented the improbable run in 1980 that was highlighted by the 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Soviet Union on Feb. 22 of that year.

"That was a big time thing," Nelson said of the film. "One my favorite movies growing up was that one. 

"I think when you're younger, you don't really think too much of it. But now the significance of it, only winning two gold medals, obviously it was quite the story with a bunch of college guys and how they came together. It's pretty cool.

"It's crazy what they did. It meant a lot not only for hockey, but for the country."

Although Nelson never watched the movie with Christian, he said his uncle was impressed, particularly with Kurt Russell's performance as coach Herb Brooks.

"They did a pretty good job," Nelson said. "Even the character that played him (Stephen Kovalcik), he looked quite like him. From what I've heard him talking about Herb, it all seemed pretty accurate how they kind of portrayed him."

Nelson hasn't had the opportunity to follow in his family's footsteps and represent the United States at the Olympics, but he did play at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2011 and has also competed in the World Championships four times (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017). 

He's also had the chance to play in Lake Placid.

"Our world junior trial camp was up there, so that was kind of cool going there and seeing that," Nelson said. "I remember going there and being like, 'Wow.' The town there is not very big, so thinking of that and hosting the Olympics and how big that event is, it's pretty crazy. But you definitely get the chills and the feels when you walk in that rink and see where it all went down. It's a cool place."

A place that may not have hosted the birth of U.S. hockey, but certainly got it back on the map and was the catalyst for so many children wanting to play the game.

"The significance of it, I don't think you can state it enough," Nelson said. "I think it just grew the game at a time when hockey maybe wasn't the biggest of sports. I think more people got into it and how it kind of rallied more than just hockey, but the country. The importance of that goes beyond just hockey, but it grew the game tremendously."

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