'I needed one more time': Former Spuds hockey player skates final college hockey shift with broken leg
BUFFALO, N.Y.—Bryant Christian's tibia in his right leg was broken.The former Moorhead Spuds hockey standout looked at the scoreboard Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y. He knew his hockey career was coming to an end, as a whistle stopped play in the Canisius zone.
American International College was down 3-0 to the Golden Griffins in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey Championship tournament. The Yellow Jackets needed to win to keep their season alive. There were only seconds remaining. It was over.
Christian had played one shift in the first period in what was going to be his final college hockey game. His dream as a kid was always to play Division I hockey. There wasn't a Friday or Saturday when he wasn't watching college hockey growing up. It was his religion.
Dozens of times he'd gone into the boards, but on that first shift Sunday his foot went into the boards on a funny angle. He sat the entire game, but in those final seconds he turned to AIC head coach Eric Lang, a man who recruited him when he coached at West Point.
"Do you mind?" Christian said to Lang.
With tears in his eyes, Lang nodded to his captain. Christian climbed off the bench one last time. Fellow seniors Dominic Racobaldo, who played for the Fargo Force, and Andrew DeBrincat helped him to the ice. Senior Jackson Dudley asked Christian if he wanted to take the faceoff in his normal center position. Christian couldn't make it to the dot, but he was out there for the final 15 seconds.
"In the waning seconds you realize the dream is over," Christian said. "I wanted one last opportunity to be able to represent the school that gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. It was something that meant a lot to me."
In that final shift, there was no pain.
"There's so many emotions and adrenaline going through your body," Christian said. "Everything from the first time you put on your skates at an outdoor rink or pond, within five seconds you go through your entire career. I don't remember any pain at all, so I just glided around pushing with my left leg. The emotions of everything involved drowns out any pain."
Lang saw an "it factor" when he recruited Christian and was coaching at West Point.
"It's something that doesn't show up when you evaluate him as a player," Lang said. "It's when you talk to him, when you get to know him and see the type of human being is. That kid will do anything in the game of life, anything he wants.
"He has single-handedly impacted this program as much as anyone without scoring one goal, or having one assist or having one blocked shot. We're better in the community, our culture, academically, in the weight room. Everything that matters in sports that you can't measure he has impacted in the greatest way imaginable."
Former Moorhead head boys hockey coach Dave Morinville saw the same thing when he went to two state tournaments with Christian, who was a captain for the Spuds as a senior.
"He loved the game for the right reasons," Morinville said. "When you have a quality kid like that who does things like this, that is a kid that is going to be very successful after hockey. Who would not want to have someone like that working for you? When you get done playing, and you're going to get done no matter if you're a pro or not, but my point is that eventually playing is going to be done where that's the main part of your life. How you set yourself up is really going to be how you define yourself as a player. What a defining moment for a player like that."
Lang didn't think twice about letting Christian on the ice for one last shift.
"In a nutshell, it's the least I could do to say thank you to him for what he's meant to this program," Lang said. "He has been part of one of the best transitions in college hockey. He won four games as a freshman and 15 games as a senior. He has a lot to do with that. We were a program that didn't garner the respect of being a formidable Division I team and you look at where we are now. I think things have changed and he has a lot to do with that."
Christian will graduate with a finance and accounting degree in May. In July he'll begin working for an Edward Jones investment company. He'll help coach youth hockey and maybe play in a beer league as soon as he gets his cast off.
But last Sunday he wanted one more shift as a Division I college hockey player. No broken bone would stop him.
"I just need one more time out there," Christian said. "When I got injured I didn't know that was it. Sitting on the bench and seeing the score, I knew that was it. I just needed one last feel of gliding down the ice and chasing the puck. I wasn't quite ready to let it go until that shift. I needed one more time."