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The UMD men’s hockey team took a little time off while preparing for Saturday’s second game of the series against Colorado College to attend the memorial service for Keith (Huffer) Christiansen, held in the Lake Superior Ballroom at the DECC. None of the players is old enough to have seen Christiansen play, and all they knew of him was that a gigantic, oversized UMD jersey No. 9 hangs from the rafters at AMSOUIL Arena.
It had to be an educational visit for the current Bulldogs, because the room was transformed into a virtual who’s-who of hockey in honor of Christiansen, who died of complications from a year-long battle with lung cancer at age 74.
The greatest player in UMD history inscribed his name in UMD annals from back in the mid-1960s, when he led all four of the UMD teams he played for in scoring and finished as team and WCHA scoring champ, All-WCHA and WCHA MVP, and All-America. I’m not sure which is his most amazing achievement, leading the league and having left wing Bruce McLeod finish second, and right wing Pat Francisco third, for a team that finished sixth in the WCHA, or, scoring 23 goals, 39 assists for 62 points, which just happen to be exactly half of UMD’s season total of 124 goals.
But none of those statistics mean anything, compared to the heartfelt tributes from members of the 1966-67 UMD team, including Pat Francisco and Bruce McLeod, and an impromptu tribute from team member and later coach Mike Sertich. Also, 12 members of the Silver Medal winning U.S. Olympic team, for which Huffer was captain, offered different perspectives, from coach Murray Williamson, goaltender Lefty Curran who also played with Christiansen at International Falls, and a calm but inspiring tribute from Team USA defenseman Dick McGlynn.
McGlynn came out to Minnesota as a lone Boston defenseman, and decided when he saw the likes of Tim Sheehy, Henry Boucha, George Konik, Gary Gambucci and others at the 1971 camp, he would “keep my mouth shut, learn as much as I could, and try to make that team.” McGlynn recalled that Huffer, the captain, invited him over to the apartment they had rented in Bloomington for Thanksgiving. He recalled Huffer and Evie Christiansen’s son, Brad, and daughter, Marla, sharing the same playpen, as toddlers.
“They probably didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” McGlynn said, “but they bhad enough to invite me to Thanksgiving dinner.” McGlynn and his wife, and Huffer and Evie, remained close ever since, and the Christiansens accepted an invitation to make perhaps their last trip to visit the McGlynns on Cape Cod. In the passing years, two Minnesota defensemen on that 1972 team, Frank Sanders and Wally Olds, had died.
“We had a very close team,” McGlynn said. “I’m sure there are Broncos and Bulldogs who have an argument that they were as close as we were, but the common denominator was Huffer.”
McGlynn imagined that Huffer got to heaven and was looking for a couple of wingers when he was reunited with Frank Sanders and Wally Olds, and wondered about converting those two to wings. McGlynn said: “Huffer could say, ‘I did it with McLeod and Francisco, so I can do it with these two guys.’ ‘’
Some other former International Falls stars, such as Steve Ross, and Ron Beck, attended and recalled going across the border to Fort Frances, where they first saw Christiansen play in youth hockey. So when he came over to International Falls High School to reside with his uncle and led the Broncos to the 1962 state championship, all was well. The next year, Christiansen ran into a high school league rule that showed he had exhausted his semesters of eligibility and couldn’t play his senior year. He and Bob
O’Leary, an International Falls teammate, played junior hockey in Fort Frances that year, then Christiansen came to UMD. He had met Evie Sutherland at Falls, and they were married in 1965, while Huffer was still in college. He kept his private life private, but there was no way he could keep his hockey life private: He scored 75 goals and 121 assists for 196 points in 102 games during his four years at UMD.
After warm recollections by his son and daughter, who explained that their dad was never “Huffer” once he had grandchildren, who called him Boppa.” The service was concluded by another former UMD teammate, Benjie Wolfe, who had played with him in that Duluth Arena opening WCHA game against the Gophers, in which Huffer set the all-time UMD record for assists and points with six assists in an 8-1 romp. They have stayed close over the years, and Wolfe called upon his experience as a grief counselor.
He quoted an author who made a memorable point about “living your dash.” He noted we all die, and the common inscription gives the date of birth and date of death. In Huffer’s case it’s July 14, 1944-November 5, 2018. It’s not either date that is most important, Wolfe said, “It’s how you lived your dash.”
UMD Hopes high for football, volleyball
UMD’s football players have weathered, so to speak, some awfully cold weather this fall, but Saturday might be a day they won’t mind low-20-degrees and a little wind. They are playing Texas A&M-Commerce at 1 p.m. at Malosky Stadium, and it might be the coldest conditions the Texas team has ever experienced.
The Bulldogs, 11-0, are coming off a40-13 victory over Northern State last Saturday, and it was an interesting game. After a scoreless first quarter, for the second game in a row, the Bulldogs started scoring, using lengthy drives to overrun Northern.
UMD scored on three straight drives, of 90, 80 and 83 yards, to take a solid lead, then in the third quarter they scored two more touchdowns on drives of 83 and 65 yards. Zach Ojile, the converted tight end, continues to look at home at running back and scored the first and last touchdowns. His 55 yards rushing were second to Wade Sullivan’s 84 as UMD outrushed Northern State 241-30.
Indoors, climate controlled and all, the UMD volleyball team was at its balanced best, beating Sioux Falls in three straight, then beating Southwest Minnesota State 3-1.
Sophomore Kate Berg led UMD in kills in both matches, and was the Bulldogs most effective finisher, yet she was left off the six-player all-tournament team for players whose statistics didn’t compare. Maybe that’s just another indication of how balanced the Bulldogs are.
As the Bulldogs emotions spilled out after they had clinched the NSIC tournament title, they posed with the trophy. There is a bigger trophy at stake in the Super Region 4 tournament at Kearney this weekend. “That’s what we’re after,” said Berg.