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Chamber banquet brings home Olympic gold

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CLOQUET—David Christian admitted to still getting more nervous before a speaking engagement than he ever did before a hockey game. But it doesn’t keep the “Miracle on Ice” defenseman from working the banquet circuit. Instead, his nerves make for a pleasant surprise.

As the keynote speaker at the 61st annual meeting and banquet of the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce, Feb. 27 at Black Bear Casino Resort, Christian came off as real and charming. You got the feeling that if there was anything slick about him, it could only be found under his skates.

Christian talked about revisiting the Lake Placid ice sheet that hosted the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s gold rush and how it still “gave me chills.” He talked about winning in business, something his family did as purveyors of the now defunct but well-remembered Christian Brothers hockey stick manufacturer.

The 54-year-old Warroad, Minn., native entertained a long line of guests, including Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren, who fondly remembered listening to the live radio broadcast of the semifinal upset of the Soviet Union in advance of the tape-delayed evening telecast of the game. Christian was gracious throughout the evening.

But he was at his best when talking about Herb Brooks. The late coach of the team was its most electric personality. The stories about Brooks were the peak of the evening and it was clear that even today Christian took what he called “Brooks-isms” everywhere he went.  

Christian recalled Brooks telling the team, “You’re getting worse every day and right now you’re playing like it’s the middle of next month!”

It was that sort of cutting and even cruel jab that Christian said helped to galvanize the team. As the Disney movie, “Miracle,” illustrated so well, Brooks, Christian said, “was the common enemy.”

Christian’s father and uncle, Bill and Roger, respectively, played on the gold medal winning 1960 Olympic hockey team. It was the team from which Brooks was the final cut the week before the games started. Brooks and his dad, Herbert Sr, watched the telecast and when it was over Christian said everyone on the 1980 team knew what the father said to the son, “‘Well Herb, it looks like they cut the right guy.’”

That rejection gave Brooks an edge, and his players felt it like a razor pressed to their throats.

“We all had the feeling we could be cut right up ’til we got our credentials at Lake Placid,” Christian said.

In the weeks and exhibition games leading up to Lake Placid, Christian became the main actor in a team drama. Brooks would walk up to Christian and ask if the winger had ever played defense. Maybe before high school, Christian would tell him. After a few rounds of this interplay, Brooks set the lineup one day with Christian on defense. Christian dutifully played the role without a second thought. The move helped to fortify the U.S. club, as Christian became the steady puck man that Minnesota Wild fans have come to find in defenseman Ryan Suter.

A week after winning the gold, Christian was off to the NHL, where he played 15 years and scored 340 goals as a right wing, including a goal 7 seconds into his career as a rookie for the Winnipeg Jets.   

Even years later and despite all the success, Brooks still held sway over Christian’s career.

“‘If you’d have played for me,’” Christian recalled Brooks telling him years later, “‘I’d have moved you to defenseman right away. You played your whole career out of position.’”