Underrated Nation: Dave Christian
The Hockey Guys present Underrated Nation: a look at the less familiar names or those who skated under the spotlight within the NHL. We hope you enjoy the latest installment.
by Bill Kellet
He played in over 1000 NHL games, recorded over 700 points and was a part of one of the biggest sporting upsets in history in 1980, yet the thing that Dave Christian will most likely always be known for? The hockey stick. Why you ask? His uncle Gordon was one of the founders of the Christian hockey stick company, one of the largest producers of sticks throughout the 1980′s and into the 1990′s. But don’t be fooled as the company is still going strong today.
Lost in the shuffle of his famous family ( another one of his uncles as well as his father Bill also competed for Team USA in the 1960 Winter Olympics) was the fact that the scrawny young kid from Minnesota has some hockey talent of his own, and throughout a 16 year career set out to prove that his family was about more than just making sticks — they were about the game itself.
David William Christian was born on May 12, 1959 in Warroad, Minnesota. The culture in Minnesota is the closest to Canada in the winter months as hockey is often the only means of survivial. As a youngster, Christian was a great all around athlete. He competed not only in hockey but also played football, baseball and was an exceptional track and field athlete.
However, it must have been bred into him from his dad because hockey was the one sport he excelled at, and he could see early on it would be the one that would garner him the most success.
He decided to go the University route and attended the University of North Dakota and was a memeber of the Fighting Sioux, a team which in 1979 went to the National Championships, only to lose to the University of Minnesota, which featured another great future American hockey player, Neal Broten.
Having impressed with the Sioux, scouts were knocking at his door hoping they had uncovered the next great talent. In the end the Winnipeg Jets selected Christian 40th overall in 1979. His pro career would begin the following year, but not before another extraordinary accomplishment.
Late in 1979, Herb Brooks was assigned the task of putting together a team that was to compete in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. One of the players he wanted was indeed Christian, having been impressed with his performance in North Dakota. Christian ended up making the team, and would play a key role in that team winning the Gold Medal that year, joining his dad Bill and Unlce Roger who had won a Silver twenty years prior. However, for Dave Christian, the “Miracle on Ice” will be a memory to cherish for an eternity.
The uphoria hardly had a chance to wear off when he was summoned by his new team the Jets. He arrived in Winnipeg exactly one week after the amazing win at the Olympics and the people in Winnipeg were ecstatic to see Christian play.
He wouldn’t dissapoint.
Just a mere seven seconds into his first NHL game, Dave Christian would get on the scoresheet. It remains an NHL record to this day for the fastest goal by a player in his first NHL game.
Christians first season would be a succesful one, scoring 18 points in just 15 games. He was touted as the next big thing in Winnipeg, and often played on a line with Dale Hawerchuk. Christain was a rarity for the time, an All Star American kid playing in Canada. It was a sense of priveledge for the people in Manitoba, who were often overlooked as far as star power goes.
Christians stardom would rise and fall in Winnipeg. He was putting up decent numbers but was often in the doghouse for lackluster play, despite being one of the highest scorers on the team every year.
However, in the summer of 1983, prior to the draft that year, Christian was dealt to the Washington Capitals for their 1st round pick (which was used it to select defenceman Bobby Dollas). While with Washington, Christian would once again be a prolific scorer. He would find his longest tenure in his career with Washington, playing seven seasons there. Christians finesse and speed made it exciting for people in D.C. to get attached to Christian, and during the eighties when the team was on the rise, Dave Christian would be a big factor in their ascendance.
The team boasted players like Mike Ridley, Kevin Miller, Kevin Hatcher, Sylvain Cote, Al Iafrate, Michal Pivonka, Petr Bondra, Bobby Carpenter, as well as many others. It was a nucleus that was bound to perform together for years to come which helped Christian enjoy his time in the Nations Capital as well, feeling the club was on the rise and interest around the area was strong for the team in a way it never had been before.
During the 1989-90 season, for an unexplainable reason, Christians points totals declined drastically as he would only score three goals and earn eight assists in 28 games, paltry numbers compared to his normal output.
Feeling his game was in dissaray, the Capitals dealt him to the Boston Bruins for Bob Joyce. While in Boston Christian was playing mostly with role players, or split time between the second and thrid line. It was a drastic change from what he had come to know having been a member of the high powered Washington offence, but like all great players he learned to adapt, and actually in time became a superb role player himself; making himself valuable in a different aspect.
His second season in Boston he would score 53 points, very solid numbers for a guy now in a third line role. He was also a contributor to the teams run to the Stanley Cup finals that year – his one and only trip there. They would eventually lose to the mighty Edmonton Oilers, but Dave Christian felt he leanred more from that journey than any other he had previously been on.
In the summer of 1991, the Boston Bruins would go out on a limb to sign two role players in Glenn Featherstone, a hard rock defenceman and depth forward Dave Thomlinson. It was a curious move, especially since both were restricted free agents, meaning there would be compensation owed to the St.Louis Blues, their previous club. After a long investigation and an arbitraitor ruling it was decided that the Bruins would lose a couple of draft picks, as well as Dave Christian to the Blues as compensation. It would be a strange series of events for sure, and would also set in motion the decline of Dave Christian.
Though Christain would perform admirably for St Louis, it was obvious his skills were in a decline as witnessed with Boston. He would produce 20 goals in his one season with the Blues, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Its just that he was now relegated to a certain role. Dave Christian, the man who had been a part of bringing a nation to its feet in 1980, who had dazzled the crowd in Winnipeg on his first shift – the man who always was relied on for big goals, was now a role player. Though it was a part he carried with pride, as he did all his accomplishments, it was disheartening nontheless.
After one season in St.Louis the Blues left him exposed in the 1992 waiver draft, hoping he would go unclaimed. The plan backfired. He was immediately scooped up by the Chicago Blackhawks. His time in Chicago would be less than memorable. He scored four goals in his first season while having played 60 games, and in the second season scored none. He was demoted to their IHL affiliate at the time – the Indianapolis Ice.
After two seasons playing with the Manitoba Moose, Christian hung up the skates. Ending a very promising and distinguished career.
All told, Dave Christian would end his career having competed in 1,009 career NHL games and earning 340 goals and 433 assists for 733 points.
In 2001 he was inducted in to the USA hockey hall of fame.
Post playing career Dave Christian was briefly GM of the USHL’s Fargo-Moorehead Bears, a position he held from 1998-2000. He also still has shares in the Christian hockey stick company and spends much of his leisure time golfing – having a close friendship with many of his former teamates.
Dave Christian will always be remembered for his early career, the one where he dazzled with his skills and hockey smarts. But there are many sides to Dave Christian as he was a very skilled player but was also a chameleon who could adapt to whatever role was thrust upon him. 1,009 NHL games was a testament to his longevity and his usefulness to teams.
Dave Christian will alwasy be an honored member of the NHL fraternit, and an honoured memeber of Underated Nation.