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Wisconsin ‘camper’ hails from the land of Johnson, Suter

April 6, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - David Hebgen dance-jogged up to the stage to receive his hockey jersey Monday, March 26 during the draft portion of the 4th annual Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp.

He was dressed as Humpty Hump, the dorky yet sexually devious alter ego of Shock G from the hip-hop group Digital Underground. Wearing a fur hat and mustache-less Groucho Marx glasses, Hebgen posed for photos with his Team Red coaches and 1980 U.S. hockey Olympians Neal Broten, Dave Christian and Mark Johnson. The jersey had "Humpty Hump" written across the shoulders, and, not coincidentally, his number was 69.

"I have two other jerseys with my name on 'em hanging in my closet at home," Hebgen said. "This year, I wanted to do something funny."

Article Photos

David Hebgen poses with his medal Wednesday, March 28 after his team, the MeanGirlz (Team Red), won gold at the 4th annual Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

The whole nickname and get-up stemmed from a previous year when he performed the song at karaoke. Digital Underground is the group where West Coast rap legend Tupac Shakur got his start, originally as just a roadie and a backup dancer. The group also appeared in the widely panned not-so-funny comedy film "Nothing But Trouble," which Hebgen described as a "terrible but really good movie" that he would watch any day.

All jokes and costumes aside, every spring for the past four years, Hebgen has traveled 1,000 miles from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Lake Placid for the Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp, a four-day event where players from the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team coach and play hockey with hockey fanatics in a miniature tournament.

Hebgen views the camp as a highlight of camaraderie and friendship in his life.

Hebgen's Midwest accent isn't crazy thick. It's not like Frances McDormand in the movie "Fargo," but he does generously spread the phrase "ya' know" throughout his speech.

"Ya' know, it's become kind of a family reunion things for us," he said. "Ya' know, there's a lot of returning players every year. We've got about 40 this year, so it's kind of become a 'hey guys, we're going to meet up in Placid and see how things are going' deal. You get to hang with the '80 guys and catch up with them, ya' know. We've become pretty good friends, ya' know, throughout these last three years. We get to play some hockey, have some drinks and catch up with family."

On Monday, after the draft, the players went to the ice for their first practice game. Hebgen and Team Red was facing Team Blue. He started asking everybody on his team who wanted to play which positions and who wanted to get on the ice first. He was also the first one ready and standing whenever players changed.

That light-hearted character in a big nose and plastic glasses was replaced by a serious hockey player.

"There is absolutely a level of intensity," Hebgen said. "No matter how much we are friends off the ice and we're drinking afterward, we want to win. Ya' know, everybody out there wants to win the gold medal."

Despite that, he does recognize that it's all just for fun.

When he's not working as an IT network administrator, Hebgen coaches hockey and football at Madison Memorial High School, the same high school where Johnson played. Hebgen's been coaching hockey for more than 20 years, and this is his fourth year as the school's assistant coach. That role appears even when he's the one on the ice.

"Ya' know, my coaching definitely plays a big part in it just because it's natural for me," Hebgen said. "When I'm out there, I know what I'm looking for, how to get [my teammates] in a position for us to be successful and how to become better hockey players."

Madison is also 1980 U.S. defenseman Bob Suter's hometown. Hebgen's father knew Suter and Johnson well; he even played softball with them for a time.

"I grew up around those guys quite a bit," Hebgen said. "I've got autographs all through the house from them when I was little, so [the camp] was kind of an exclamation point on that whole story and family connection."

Hebgen was only 2 years old when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic semifinals and later Finland for the gold medal, so he didn't experience the historic event firsthand, but that intangible Olympic spirit still flows through him. He even got to win his own gold medal this past week.

"Ya' know, coming back every year, it still gives you chills," Hebgen said. "Ya' know, the Miracle on Ice happened here. Everything that we see on the documentaries and in the games happened here, so it just has that nostalgia no matter if you're here to play or if you're here just visiting, especially when you get out on that ice, ya' know."

 
 

 

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