A look into the life and legacy of Keith “Huffer” Christiansen

Photo of Huffer courtesy of UMD athletics

Photo of Huffer courtesy of UMD athletics

If you’re a fan of hockey, and more specifically UMD hockey, it’s likely you’ve heard the name Huffer Christiansen, and more than once.

Huffer Christiansen, born Keith Christiansen, is a former UMD men’s hockey player and a former Fighting Saint player. Huffer passed away on Monday Nov. 5 at the age of 74, but Huffer’s legacy still lives on at UMD.

Huffer played for the Bulldogs from 1963-1967, and he made sure to leave a mark on both UMD and UMD athletics. Huffer was the first player to ever have his jersey retired. He played a huge role in moving the Bulldogs into the division one team they are today.

UMD’s assistant athletics director of communications Robert Nygaard said that one of his regrets was that he was too young and never got to watch Huffer play.

“I don’t think there is any doubt, and this isn’t a hyperbole, any doubt that in the history of this hockey program, and maybe this athletic program, that there was any one individual that had more of an impact during his time than Huffer Christiansen,” Nygaard said.

Photo of Huffer courtesy of UMD athletics

Photo of Huffer courtesy of UMD athletics

Part of Huffer’s legacy was his ability to lead both on and off the ice. Huffer was a team player who cared about the game and his team.

“He was a captain his senior year, he was one that people said lead both on and off the ice and one that I think had the ability to have players want to emulate him,” Nygaard said.

Huffer continued his commitment to UMD years after graduating. Josh Berlo, UMD’s director of intercollegiate athletics, spoke of Huffer’s support for the Bulldogs years after he hung up his skates.

“He was the first number we ever retired and he was just really in so many ways the heart and soul of being a bulldog,” Berlo said. “He was well connected with the alumni and he kept a lot of his teammates involved with our program. He was certainly very proud. He played hockey throughout his whole life and was just a great positive influence and just the consummate bulldog in so many ways.”

Huffer was part of UMD’s alumni committee as well as the number retirement committee. He made sure to stay connected to the school and to help his teammates and those who came after him to stay connected too.

“Everyone respected that he was the first one to be retired and when we would retire recent numbers his voice was very powerful and his guidance was very important,” Berlo said. “He made sure that we were taking our highest honor and bestowing it on the right people, in the right way, at the right time.”

Patrick Francisco played alongside Huffer all four years. From day one Francisco was placed on Huffer’s line, and he never came off.

“It was an incredible gift to play with him at all,” Francisco said. “Let alone all four years.”

Francisco played as a wing, meaning his job was to stay out of Huffer’s way. Francisco believes Huffer was a super talent and was talented not only in his hockey skills.

“He was a great guy and a great leader,” Francisco said. “He supported his teammates. He was an ultimate team player. He was feisty and dynamic and in your face on the rink, but he was supportive and passionate in the locker room and throughout life.”

Huffer left behind a legacy at UMD. He was kind to his teammates and those around him and he was passionate about the game.

“I think his legacy was that he didn’t build that arena in Duluth, but he was the reason it was built,” Francisco said. “The arena was built because more people wanted to come see this kid play.”

Although Huffer was an amazing talent athletically, Francisco and Huffer’s other teammates will remember him for who he was off of the ice just as much as they will remember him for who he was on the ice.

“He gave back, just like I’d say he played, with everything he had,” Berlo said.