OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- An Olympic or world championship medal in any hockey player’s trophy case is undoubtedly something to be cherished. For U.S. forward Brock Nelson, considering his family’s rich history and remarkable achievements in the sport, a gold medal here would only be all that much more special.
Nelson, from Warroad, Minnesota, is the nephew of 1980 Lake Placid Olympic gold medalist Dave Christian. His grandfather Bill and great uncle Roger both played on the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic gold medal team. Another great uncle, Gordon, won a silver medal at the 1956 Cortina Games.
“Growing up, I didn’t realize the big significance behind it until I was able to fully understand the magnitude of what happened,“ said the soft-spoken Nelson, during an off-day in Ostrava at the 2015 IIHF Men’s World Championship.
“I think maybe the ‘60 team gets a little overlooked sometimes, but what they did is equally as impressive as the ‘80 team,“ Nelson said. “We’d see their gold medals, they’d bring them out and we’d take pictures.
“I remember taking pictures of Uncle Dave’s medal too and I put his jersey on – it’s something that you dream of as a kid.“
Displaying a powerful presence and scorer’s touch around the net, the 6-foot-3 Nelson leads Team USA in scoring with six goals to date, tying him for second in the tournament. He also has nine points in the world championship to lead the U.S., just two behind the tournament leaders.
Nelson and his linemates Jack Eichel and Trevor Lewis have quickly found chemistry and are a major factor in the team winning six of its first seven games at the world championship.
The three gold medalists in Nelson’s family, like himself, are from the small Northern Minnesota town of Warroad, just six miles from the Canadian border. Nelson‘s close relatives have been a huge inspiration to the New York Islander forward, who just completed his second NHL season, tallying 42 points (20G, 22A) in 82 games.
“When it finally sank in that two of my close family members were able to accomplish something like that, one on each of the gold medal teams from America is pretty special,“ Nelson said.
Nelson seems to take after his Uncle Dave, who turned 56 yesterday (May 12), demonstrating a humble, hard-working, do-whatever-it-takes attitude while on the ice.
Christian, who at the time was 20, made a significant contribution to the Miracle on Ice team’s improbable run to gold in the small Adirondack town of Lake Placid, New York, some 35 years ago. Asked to play out of position as a defenseman by Herb Brooks, Christian notched eight assists in seven games for American gold medalists.
Some may recall that it was Christian, who in the waning seconds of the first period against the Soviet Union, fired a slap shot on Vladislav Tretiak from 100 feet away. The legendary Soviet goalie made the save but misplayed the rebound, which bounced out some 20 feet in front of him. Mark Johnson retrieved the loose puck and sent it past a diving Tretiak to knot the score, 2-2, with one second remaining in the first period.
Christian’s shot and the miscue by Tretiak led to Soviet head coach Viktor Tikhonov pulling his goalie from the game in favor of back-up Vladimir Myshkin, a decision which many, including Tikhonov, still question today.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy and I don’t pick his brain as much as I probably should,“ Nelson said of his Uncle Dave. “He’s a humble guy and a role model to me. He doesn‘t go around boasting of his story.
“It’s pretty remarkable that he was able to switch positions for the Olympics when Herb called him to play defense,“ Nelson continued. “You don’t ever hear of that happening any more in a regular game in the regular season, let alone at the Olympics.“
Nelson shared similar warm thoughts and anecdotes about his grandfather Bill, who has since left the frigid climate of Warroad, and now resides in Florida.
“He was also a hard-working, pretty quiet guy,“ Nelson said of his grandfather, a re-occurring theme of the Christian family.
“There’s a funny story from back in the day at Squaw Valley that they had a couple of tickets they were trying to get rid of before one of the games,“ Nelson told of his grandfather and great uncle. “I thought it was crazy. You don‘t hear of guys hanging outside the rink before the game trying to get rid of tickets. We had a pretty good laugh about that.“
Like his elder family members, Nelson is no stranger to proudly wearing the red, white and blue USA colors. He is competing in his third international tournament, having won a bronze medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2011 and also donning the USA jersey at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, Belarus.
Nelson advised that during his youth, the three brothers, Gordon, Roger and his grandfather Bill, all lived next door to one another along the river in Warroad. Between 1964-2003, the brothers operated Christian Brothers, a company that produced hockey sticks.
“They were all pretty quiet, hard-working guys, that stuck to their business and I think everybody looked up to them,“ Nelson said. “It was kind of nice to have that in the family.“
It should be noted that Bill and Roger were also world champions in 1960, having won the Olympic tournament as the Games doubled as the world championship in those years. With a successful showing by Team USA over the four days ahead here in the Czech Republic, Nelson could match one of the accomplishments of his grandfather and great uncle.
“If you’re able to get an opportunity to play for a gold medal, you definitely want to seize that and make the most of it,“ Nelson continued with a glean in his eyes. “Knowing that I’ve had a couple of family members that have had an opportunity and done that is encouraging and drives you to be that.“
“I’d love to be able to have that opportunity.“
|April 28||Austria (ex.)||W, 4-1|
|May 1||Finland||W, 5-1|
|May 2||Norway||W, 2-1|
|May 4||Russia||W, 4-2|
|May 7||Belarus||L, 2-5|
|May 8||Denmark||W, 1-0|
|May 10||Slovenia||W, 3-1|
|May 12||Slovakia||W, 5-4 OT|
|May 17||Czech Republic
Bronze Medal Game
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