Shake Brock Nelson's family tree, and he's the apple who didn't fall far away. Long before Nelson started this rookie season with the Islanders -- long before he scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night -- his grandfather, two grand uncles and an uncle were Olympic hockey medal winners.
Three of those four Nelson relatives, in fact, played for the two most memorable American hockey gold-medal teams, each one upsetting the mighty Soviet Union amid Cold War passions in 1960 and 1980.
Well before the 22-year-old Nelson's time, of course. "But I remember, as a little kid," he said, "taking a picture with the medals they had locked away, so I think that was pretty cool. I think that's when it hits you and you start to realize the significance."
Nelson's mother, Jeri Christian Nelson, is the daughter of Bill Christian, who teamed with his brother Roger to score two key American goals in their dramatic 1960 comeback victory over the Soviets. Another brother, Gordon, had been a member of the 1956 silver-medal U.S. team, when the Soviets won gold.
More famously, Jeri's brother Dave Christian played on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that has been immortalized for knocking off the heavily favored Soviets at Lake Placid. A week after those Olympics, Dave began a 19-year NHL career, scoring his first goal seven seconds into his first game.
Nelson is not aware that his mother ever played organized hockey, "but she skated," he said. "She was a figure skater. I'm sure if she picked up a hockey stick, she'd do something with it."
Nelson spent most of his youth in Warroad, Minn., just south of the Canadian border where his hockey-skilled forefathers lived and where "there are a lot of hockey players," he said. "There are rinks where you can skate any time of day, and a number of outdoor rinks. Ever since I was a kid, that's all I remember doing was skating, at the Gardens back home or on the river at my grandma's with my family."
To find himself in the NHL now, he said, "is a blast. It's a dream come true, everything you always wanted to do. Pretty special."
It may not be all genes, though. Nelson's father, Roc, "actually wasn't a hockey player," he said. "He played basketball, I think, in high school. My mom passed on the hockey from that side, I guess. Somehow, it worked out."