Photo: Monumental Network
Over the years, the Capitals’ roster has featured players that represented their respective countries in the Winter Olympics (when the NHL allowed player participation), whether during their respective careers in Washington or before or after. One such player was American forward Dave Christian. NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks back at his Capitals career in the latest Capitals Alumni Profile.
David “Dave” William Christian was born on May 12, 1959, in Warroad, Minnesota, the small city now known as Hockeytown, USA. Both his father, Bill, and his uncle, Roger, were members of the United States Olympic Hockey team that won a Gold Medal at the 1960 in Squaw Valley, California. In fact, Bill teamed up with Roger to score two goals in their dramatic comeback against the Soviet Union that year. Another uncle, Gordon, was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that won the Silver Medal in 1956. Bill, Roger, and Gordon Christian, along with their brother-in-law, Hal Bakke, founded the Christian Brothers Hockey Company which, until 2009, made hockey sticks. The company was based in Warroad.
Throughout his youth, Dave played hockey, baseball, football, and track. He attended Warroad High School and competed in track as well as hockey. After high school, he attended the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and played for their hockey team, the Fighting Sioux (now called the Fighting Hawks). His team advanced to the National Championship that year but lost to the University of Minnesota. In his first season at North Dakota, he scored eight goals and had 16 assists in 38 games played. He was much better during his sophomore year, when he scored 22 goals and added 24 assists for 46 points overall in 40 games played.
After that, he was part of the legendary United States “Miracle On Ice” Olympic team in 1980 that won the Gold Medal. That team famously upset the heavily-favored Soviet Union on the way to winning the Gold Medal. While Christian was normally a forward, U.S. Coach Herb Brooks utilized him as a defenseman. During his time with the U.S. National team, he had 10 goals and 20 assists in 59 exhibition games and zero goals and eight assists in the eight Olympic games in which he played.
Years with Winnipeg Jets
Christian began his professional career a week after the Olympics, joining the (original) Winnipeg Jets, the team that drafted him in the second-round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft in 1979 (40th overall pick). Jets General Manager John Ferguson, presented him with his first multi-year contract, which he signed. He joined the Jets for the latter part of the 1979-80 season and wasted no time making an impact. Just seven seconds into his first game, he scored his first NHL goal. He ended up scoring eight goals to go along with 10 assists in just 15 games for the Jets, an excellent debut as he averaged more than one point per game.
During his first full season with the Jets, in 1980-81, he scored 28 goals and had 43 assists for 73 points. The Jets made the playoffs and Christian recorded one assist in four games. Prior to the following season, the Jets named him team captain, at the tender age of 22. He followed his promotion with 25 goals and 51 assists for 76 points. Due to a shoulder injury, he played only 55 games during the 1982-83 season, but scored 18 goals and had 26 assists for 44 points. He played in three playoff games but did not score.
The one issue Christian had in Winnipeg was the fact that the Canadian tax laws took a bite out his salary, as an American-born player. In addition, the exchange rate of Canadian dollars was not very good at the time; about a 20% drop. As a a result, Christian felt he would have no future in the city of Winnipeg. Because of this, it would take a large pay hike to keep him in Winnipeg to make up for the tax losses. Christian played his contract out with the Jets and became a free agent. He packed up his apartment in Winnipeg and headed back to Minnesota. However, before he could explore free agency, the Jets traded him to the Washington Capitals on June 7, 1983. During his three full years and one partial season with the Jets, he played in 230 games with them, scoring 79 goals, recording 130 assists for 209 points.
Career with Washington Capitals
On June 7 (the day of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft), the Capitals acquired Christian in return for their first-round pick in the draft. Then-Caps General Manager David Poile figured that the players available when it was the Caps’ turn to pick would not be immediately ready for the NHL.
Poile commented after the trade, “We made some good strides last year and I really didn’t want to trade our first-round pick, because you want to build on those (draft picks). Doing this may seem to be a contradiction, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a 24-year-old Dave Christian. Because of his versatility, he is more the type of player we want on the Capitals. He’s played every position except goaltender. He can also kill penalties, and play the point on the power play, which is one area we want to improve. With a healthy Darren Veitch and now Peter Andersson (from the Swedish national team) and Dave Christian, we should be able to do that.”
Christian, meanwhile, was thrilled to be traded to the Caps. “I wanted to play in the United States and I’m tickled to death to be in Washington.”
His performance during the 1983-84 season reflected his happiness to play with the Capitals, as he scored 29 goals and amassed 52 assists for 81 points. His 29 goals and 52 assists were both new career-highs. He was also plus-26, which was a far cry from the negative Plus/Minus totals from his days with Winnipeg. He was a part of the first Capitals team to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping the Caps sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in three games. Unfortunately, the Caps lost to the New York Islanders in five games in the second round. During their two series, Christian scored five goals and had four assists in eight games, for nine points overall.
During 1984-85, Christian scored 26 goals and added 43 assists for 69 points. The Capitals made it to the playoffs but lost in the division semifinals to the New York Islanders. In 1985-86, he scored a career-high 41 goals and had 42 assists for 83 points. That year, he was placed on a line with Mike Gartner and Bengt Gustafsson that was both entertaining and effective. That year was his best year overall. In the playoffs, the Caps swept the Islanders in the Division Semifinals but then lost to the New York Rangers in the Division Finals in six games. Christian had four goals and four assists during those two series.
He played three more full seasons with the Caps, scoring 23 goals and adding 27 assists in 1986-87, 37 goals and 21 assists in 1987-88, and 34 goals and 38 assists in 1988-89. The Caps were playoff teams in each of those seasons but did not advance past Round 2 in any of them.
Christian got off to a slow start in goal-scoring for the 1989-90 season, with only three goals by December 12. Up until that point, he had played in 243 consecutive games with the Caps before being scratched for two games in early December against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
On December 13, 1989, he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Bob Joyce. Joyce was a 23-year-old winger who had scored 18 goals and had 31 assists during the 1988-89 season but had only one goal and two assists in 1989-90 in just 23 games. The thinking for both General Managers was that the trade would jump-start the players’ productivity.
After the trade, Poile commented, “David’s done a lot and meant a lot to the Washington Capitals for the last six seasons. He was one of the main figures in the success we’ve had in bringing the Capitals from one of the lower teams in the NHL to one of the better teams in the NHL.”
During his career in Washington, Christian scored 193 goals and added 224 assists for 417 points in a very productive period for the team. At the time of the trade, he was third on the Caps’ all-time list in goals, trailing only Gartner and Gustafsson, sixth on the Caps all-time list in assists, trailing Gartner, Gustafsson, Dennis Maruk, Scott Stevens, and Larry Murphy, and fifth on the Caps’ all-time list in points, trailing Gartner, Gustafsson, Maruk, and Stevens. As of today, he ranks eighth in goals, nineteenth in assists, and thirteenth in points.
Remainder of NHL Career
He finished the 1989-90 season with Boston, scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists to go along with the three goals and eight assists he recorded with the Caps that season. He was part of the Bruins team that reached the Conference Final only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He regained his goal-scoring form for the Bruins the following year as he scored 32 goals and had 21 assists. Once again, the Bruins reached the Conference Finals but lost to the Penguins.
He played three more seasons after that, playing in 1991-92 with the St. Louis Blues and 1992-1993 with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played only nine games for the Blackhawks during the 1993-94 season which was his last in the NHL. For his entire NHL career, he played in 1,009 games, scoring 340 goals and adding 433 assists for 773 points. He played 40 games in 1993-94 with the Indianapolis Ice, who were the Blackhawks’ International Hockey League (IHL) affiliate. He finished his professional hockey career with the Minnesota Moose of the IHL, with whom he played during 1994-95 and 1995-96.
Throughout his NHL career, he also played in more international competition, representing the U.S. in the Canada Cup during 1981, 1984, and 1991 seasons. He also took part in the World Championships of Hockey in 1989.
Near the end of the 1997-98 season, Christian was named head coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks. He held those positions through the 1999–2000 season.
Christian was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
In February 2015, at the time of the Miracle on Ice 35th Anniversary Reunion, he was employed as a Technical Services Engineer with Cardinal Glass Industries in Fargo, North Dakota and also enjoyed doing crossword puzzles daily.
Below is the interview with him.
By Diane Doyle
Check out NoVa Caps’ other Capitals Alumni Profiles here.