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David Preuss was one of the best athletes St. Thomas Academy produced. He earned 10 letters in three sports at the private high school and had athletic scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs in football and hockey.

College football powers like Ohio State and Southern California were among the schools recruiting him.

Preuss, who was also a skilled lefthanded pitcher in baseball, followed his heart and chose hockey for the sport he would play in college.

“He loved hockey,” said his sister, Adrianne Geisler.

Preuss, of Mendota Heights, died on May 30 after suffering a heart attack. He was 56.

After his senior year of high school, Preuss was chosen by the Minnesota North Stars in the second round of the 1981 NHL entry draft — the 34th player selected overall. He opted to play hockey for the University of Minnesota.

Preuss made an immediate impression as a freshman with the Gophers, but his promising hockey career would end prematurely because of a freak injury.

He cut his foot in the locker room when a Gophers teammate accidentally stepped on his bare foot midway through his sophomore season. After getting seven stitches to close the wound, he returned to the Gophers lineup. But the injury continued to bother him. After the season, he learned that a tendon had been severed in the accident.

After his junior season, he had surgery to repair the tendon, but it didn’t help. He was left with a permanent condition called “drop foot” and his hockey career was over.

“He was [disappointed] by the injury, but he didn’t have any bitterness,” said Geisler.

Former Gophers teammate Pat Micheletti said Preuss was loved by his teammates.

“He was a big guy and in great shape,” Micheletti said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Preuss. “He could skate, and he had a great shot for a guy that size. Me and all my teammates were a lot more comfortable when he was on the ice, especially on road games. He had a presence, and it felt good to have him as a teammate.”

Micheletti, who often roomed with Preuss when the Gophers played on the road, described him as a “gentle giant. He got along with everybody. One thing that stands out is his loyalty to his teammates, not only because he protected us on the ice, but because of the type of guy he was.”

After college, Preuss worked a variety of jobs, including legal process server and at a ski resort. He lived in Vail, Colo., and Chicago for a period before returning to the Twin Cities. He was an assistant hockey coach at his alma mater for a period.

Geisler said her brother “was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. I moved back to Minnesota in 1996. I was divorced, and my son was 9 and my daughter was 6. I was a flight attendant, and he would help me. He took each of them to all of their hockey practices. He was amazing. They loved him and called him ‘Uncle D.’ I don’t know what I would have done without him.”

Preuss was born on Aug. 14, 1963 — seven weeks after his father Douglas Preuss died accidentally at the age of 26. His mother eventually remarried, and Preuss grew up in White Bear Lake. He started attending St. Thomas Academy in middle school.

In addition to his sister, who lives in Rosemount, Preuss is survived by his mother, Constance, of Mendota Heights; sister Leslie Morris, of Fort Myers, Fla.; six nieces and nephews and a great-niece and great-nephew. His mother’s husband, Richard Summers, died in 2018.

A service has been held.