Moorhead member of 'Miracle on Ice' team fights to get hockey jerseys returned
MOORHEAD - Two of the proudest moments for the Christian family of Warroad happened during the Olympics.
The first was in 1960 when Bill Christian won a gold medal with the U.S. National Hockey Team.
The second came in 1980 when Bill's son, Dave, was a member of the infamous "Miracle on Ice" hockey team. They became the first father and son duo to ever win gold medals for a United States Olympic hockey team.
But for the Christians, there's more to it than the gold medals.
There are the jerseys that read "U-S-A" across the chest symbolizing how a family's triumph will forever be linked with this nation's sporting history.
"It's something our family cherishes a lot," Beau Christian said about his dad's experience with the 1980 team. "We may not speak much about it, but having that jersey is really special to him. It symbolizes the start of an NHL career, and even though it's just a jersey, it means a ton to him."
So much that Dave Christian is in a legal battle to get his jersey back. It has been sitting in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto since 1981, when Bill Christian donated his Olympic jersey and Dave's Olympic jersey to the Hall.
Hall of Fame officials aren't budging.
"From our side, these sweaters commemorate two of the greatest moments in world hockey history," said Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard. "It is our duty to protect it for future generations. We cannot return items because a donor has a change of mind years later."
Dave Christian, who now lives in Moorhead, usually goes unnoticed as a hockey legend these days. Yet, the 52-year-old is still fighting to retrieve an artifact that represents his legendary days.
A question of honor
Dave Christian says he never gave up his jersey.
His jersey, the white one he wore during the historic 4-3 Olympic semifinal win over the highly favored Soviet Union, was hanging in his father's closet back in their home in Warroad in 1981.
Maurice "Lefty" Reid, Hall of Fame curator at the time, sent Bill Christian a letter asking if he could donate the jerseys to the Hall of Fame. Bill Christian sent the jerseys.
The Hall of Fame later sent Bill a letter, a receipt according to Hall officials, acknowledging the jerseys arrived in Toronto and thanking him for the donation.
The opening line of the Hall of Fame letter addressed to Bill Christian reads: "On behalf of the Hockey Hall of Fame, may I personally thank you and your son Dave for donating these sweaters to the Hall."
But Dave Christian maintains it was a loan, not a donation.
"For me, I really think it's very simple. At no time did I ever give up ownership of my jersey to anyone," he said. "To this point, I had always known where they were. My dad loaned his jersey to the Hall of Fame in Toronto and I knew that and had no problem with them being there."
Christian said recent events in his family led to him wanting the jerseys back. Christian's uncle, Roger, who started the Christian Brothers hockey stick company with his father, recently died.
With Bill Christian, 73, getting older, the family is trying to add to their list of keepsakes - which includes Dave's gold medal and the blue jersey Dave wore in the 1980 gold-medal game.
"They had sent a letter of receipt to my dad. They had not sent one to me," Dave Christian said. "My dad interpreted it as the jerseys he had loaned had gotten there and didn't think anything of it.
"At the time of my request (to get the jerseys back), the Hall felt the jerseys belonged to them based on that letter. Very simply, it's my jersey and I want my jersey back."
Pritchard, who has been the curator for six years, said he understands Christian's argument. But Pritchard asks: Why now? Why not address this years ago?
"And we go back to the same thing. I have heard them say that it was his dad that (donated the jerseys)," Pritchard said. "All I can say is that we got them donated back in 1981 and 30 years has gone by and his dad wasn't allowed to donate his jersey? Why not say it in 1982, 1983 and why wait 30 years?"
Karen Bednarski, executive director of the International Sports Heritage Association, said as long as a Hall of Fame has documentation stating items are either on loan or donated, it's up to the respective Hall of Fame to determine if it wants to return the items.
The ISHA is a member-based nonprofit organization that deals with Hall of Fames worldwide.
"The donation was confirmed in writing, and in the past 30 years there hasn't been a suggestion of thinking they (the jerseys) were a gift," Pritchard said. "From our end, we are going with our receipts and saying they were donated."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has contacted the Canadian embassy about the matter and has written a letter to the Hall of Fame urging it to return the jerseys.
Dave Fischer, communications director for USA Hockey, said the organization would also be willing to contact the Hall of Fame.
"I don't know if we could do a whole lot, other than encourage the Hockey Hall of Fame to return the jersey," Fischer said.
Who is Dave Christian?
Even without his "Miracle on Ice" experience, Dave Christian had a stellar hockey career.
After playing high school hockey for perennial power Warroad, he played at the University of North Dakota. He became a second-round pick in the 1979 NHL draft.
Days after the 1980 Olympics, he played his first NHL game that launched a 14-year career in which he amassed 773 points in 1,009 games.
"I miss it," Christian said of playing hockey. "I miss the game. I don't miss everything that comes with it, but I miss it."
After his NHL career, he coached the Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks, which played in the United States Hockey League for a little more than two seasons. He had a 38-75-7 record with the Ice Sharks.
He eventually landed a job as quality control manager at Cardinal Glass Industries in Fargo.
Today, Dave Christian can be seen at Fargo Force and Moorhead High School hockey games where he usually goes unnoticed as a hockey legend.
That's OK with Christian.
"I think it all changes when you have kids," said Christian, who has a son, Beau, and a daughter, Kendall. "You go from being Dave Christian to Beau's dad or Kendall's dad. I like that."
There are still moments where he is recognized - as he was during a family trip to Walt Disney World a few years ago. A fan asked him for an autograph.
"He's just an average-looking guy and someone asked if he was Dave Christian," Beau Christian recalled. "He was bigger than I realized."
Chris Peters, a former public relations manager for USA Hockey, said Christian still serves as an influential figure.
When the 2009 U-18 World Hockey Championships were played in Fargo, Christian spoke to Team USA before its championship game against Russia. Christian pulled out his gold medal and told the team to make their nation proud.
"We were heading back to the hotel and one of the players said, 'Yeah, we're not losing,' " Peters said. "They beat Russia 5-0 and they dominated from the first minute of the game. I think the talk worked."
Kendall Christian said she's always going to view her dad as a superhero. But what's a superhero without a costume or a cape - or a jersey?
"It's kind of just upsetting from my point. It is upsetting that they won't give the jerseys back to their rightful owners," Beau Christian said. "It's something our family cherishes deep down. It is just a sign of the hard work and dedication of not only winning the gold medal, but everything else."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548. Clark's Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com.