Skip to Main Content

Versatility key to Christian's Olympic experience

by Mike G. Morreale

Ask any skater representing their country in a short tournament such as the Winter Olympics and it's easy to assume the role they play with their regular team usually is forgotten on an international stage.

More often than not skaters on a top offensive line are thrust into a third-line checking role. On some occasions a player serving as a forward for much of his career is given a role on defense.

During the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid, N.Y., Dave Christian was informed by coach Herb Brooks just days before the start of the tournament that he would be moving to the blue line.

"I was playing forward for a majority of that year with the Olympic team and around Christmas-time, two months prior the start of the Games, Brooks began asking me if I ever played defense," Christian told "After a couple of weeks of his asking me I finally told him that while it had been a while since I last played on [defense] in high school, I did have some experience."

The conversation, according to Christian, ended there. Brooks never again brought up the issue until just before the start of the tournament when "he told me he was moving me back to defense."

It would be quite a change for Christian, who had been playing forward at the University of North Dakota for two seasons prior to being selected for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team.

The native of Warroad, Minn., had compiled 30 goals and 70 points in 78 games as a center for the Fighting Sioux. And leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics he had 30 points in 59 exhibition games as a forward for the U.S. Olympic Team.

"I played that Olympic tournament as a defenseman," Christian said. "Years later when I would run into Herb, he said, 'You know, if you had ever played for one of my teams I'd have moved you to defense immediately. You played your whole career out of position.'"

Truth be told, Christian turned out to be one of the NHL's most consistent players on right wing in the 1980s, finishing his U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame career with 340 goals and 773 points in 1,009 games.

"In the Olympics you do what you're told to do, period," Christian said. He ended up leading the team with eight assists in seven games at the Olympics.

Six days after Christian manned the blue line for the United States against Finland to clinch the gold medal, he'd make his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets as a forward. He scored his first goal 1:07 into his first game and still remembers it well.

"We won an offensive-zone draw and the point man took a shot, I got to the net and put in the rebound," Christian said. "I thought to myself, geez this was easy."

Christian still enjoys telling tales of the miraculous run he and his teammates went on to win the gold medal. His father Bill and uncle Roger won gold for the U.S. Olympic Team during the 1960 Squaw Valley Games.

"I was only 8 months old when my dad and uncle won that gold medal, so much of what I learned was through stories he would share about the team," Christian said. "What I remember most, though, was every single day walking by a gold medal in the family room of our house. You could just pick it up any time, take it to school for show and tell. It made me dream about what could be."

Christian was asked if Brooks was portrayed accurately by actor Kurt Russell in the 2004 movie "Miracle."

"It was the tame version of some of his speeches; the PG version," Christian said. "But Herb was a great motivator and he had a great sense for who needed a pat on the back, who needed a kick and who he just needed to leave alone.

"He picked a player to call out that would actually rally the other 19 guys. He had a good feel for everybody's makeup."

What was Christian's biggest surprise, other than the outcome, in that improbable 4-3 victory against the Soviet Union?

"Watching as the Soviet coach pulled [goaltender] Vladislav Tretiak after the first period," Christian said. "In retrospect, and knowing what I know now about Herb and his mannerisms, when we took the lead late in the game it was as if he wasn't surprised at all. His demeanor remained the same and it was as if he really did expect us to be in the lead at some point; there was never any panic."


View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.