Helping to heal: Northern Michigan University Wildcats’ hockey player Joseph Nardi supports Canadian town, team 2 years after Humboldt tragedy

Northern Michigan University’s Joseph Nardi, left, defends against Minnesota State-Mankato’s Connor Mackey as the Mavericks’ player carries the puck on Dec. 14 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — By this time next week, two years ago a tragedy occurred in Saskatchewan that rocked Canada as well as the hockey world.

Later that summer, Northern Michigan University junior Joseph Nardi tried to help people heal and it was by doing what he loved, playing hockey.

On April 6, 2018, a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collided with a semi-trailer truck at a highway intersection. Fourteen people died in the crash and two more died in the following days, while 13 more were injured. One of those who died was Broncos head coach, general manager and former NMU hockey player Darcy Haugan.

Nardi had some connections with the Broncos and said on the night of the accident he had a stressful time trying to contact the various people he knew that were associated with the team.

“I was texting with my friends and got some messages or whatever that Humboldt was in a crash and some of our friends were on there,” he said in a recent phone interview. “So it hit me hard and I sent text messages out to some of the guys that were on the bus, but obviously, I didn’t get a response back from some of them.

Northern Michigan University forward Joseph Nardi, right, holds the championship trophy with Team Wack teammates Justin Young of Alaska-Fairbanks, left, and Dylan Stewart of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology at the St. Albert Humboldt Broncos Memorial Charity Hockey Tournament played in July in St. Albert, Alberta. Nardi and Team Wack also won the inaugural trophy in 2018. (Photo courtesy Joseph Nardi)

“You’re kind of just waiting at that point, trying to check Twitter or whatever it was, just trying to get as much information as possible to see what was happening. It was definitely a tough night and you feel for the people who were on the bus because we travel on buses every year and travel long distances.

“So it hits home whether you know the guys or not, because the bus is supposed to be a place where you’re having the most fun with the boys and just experiencing being around the boys and having fun. When that happens, it’s definitely something you never want to endure.”

It takes a lot for people to overcome that, but Nardi tried to do his part. He said he was invited to participate in the St. Albert Humboldt Broncos Memorial Charity Hockey Tournament later that July to honor four St. Albert (Alberta) skaters — Stephen Wack, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter and Conner Lukan — who played for the Broncos.

The tournament not only was created to honor the players, but also to raise money that would be split among two organizations. The majority went to the St. Albert Humboldt Remembrance Committee, which would fund scholarships in the names of the four players, with the rest going to the Humboldt Strong Community Foundation to help survivors of the crash. The tournament was held again last summer, which Nardi also participated in.

“So I played with Stephen Wack, who passed away at the crash and I had worked out with Logan Hunter that previous summer,” he said. “And then I’m friends with Tyler Smith (who helped drop the puck in 2018). So I’ve got a little bit of a connection with guys that played on that team and I have friends that were close friends with some of the guys on that team.

Northern Michigan University forward Joseph Nardi skates for Team Wack during the St. Albert Humboldt Broncos Memorial Charity Hockey Tournament played in July in St. Albert, Alberta. Nardi also competed in the inaugural tournament in 2018. (Photo courtesy Joseph Nardi)

“Obviously, it was a devastating tragedy and I know we had that Humboldt tournament the last few summers and a couple of guys that I played hockey with growing up put on a tournament.

“We had NHLers like (St. Louis defenseman) Colton Parayko came and (Vegas defenseman) Nick Holden. Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean was there. We had the four teams that represent the four Edmonton boys that passed away and we kind of split up teams by whoever was friends with them.

“We played a Friday, Saturday, Sunday tournament and it was awesome. It was a lot of fun.”

Nardi was on Team Wack, while other college players like Alaska-Fairbanks’ Justin Young, Denver’s Ian Mitchell and Penn State’s Brandon Biro also suited up.

“I pretty much knew everybody on my team, playing hockey with them growing up or even just close friends today,” Nardi said. “The cool thing was that I didn’t know many people from the other teams, but you start playing during the weekend and we had some functions where we had dinners and stuff. Everybody kind of got to meet everybody and it’s such a close community.

Darcy Haugan

“When tragedies happen like this, everybody comes together. It was cool to see Colton taking time out of his summer to come and Ron meeting those types of people. I think it was just a good healing process for everybody that weekend, just kind of keep our minds away from what happened and play a game that we know the boys loved.”

Nardi has definitely shown his love for the game with the Wildcats as well as his leadership qualities as he served as the Wildcats’ assistant captain this season, was fourth on the team in points with 27 and tied for first in assists (19) with captain Phil Beaulieu.

He was proud to wear the “A” for Northern on his sweater this past season and he’s willing to do anything to help the Wildcats, just like he has with St. Albert.

“I think, overall, the year was a lot of ups and downs,” Nardi said of his NMU season. “A lot of times where the team struggled and you’re kind looking for answers when you don’t really know what’s going on.

“There was a lot of highlights, too, this year and I think just building off the highs and learning from the lows. I thought Phil did a great job in leading and obviously, we didn’t like the ending to the year” — a triple overtime WCHA playoff loss to rival Michigan Tech — “and how anything played out, but I think we can learn from it.

Ex-Northern Michigan University hockey player Darcy Haugan stands on skates with the North West Junior Hockey League championship banner his North Peace, British Columbia, Navigators won in his final season as the team's coach in 2015. He left later that year for the Humboldt Broncos, the team he was with when its bus crashed and 15 people on board, including Haugan, died on April 5, 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Humboldt Journal)

“We’re a young group and if we take some of the stuff that happened last year and try and work on it next year, we’ll be in those situations and we’ll know what to do.

“I think whenever you’re put in a position like that (as a captain), it’s a huge honor and I take it very seriously. I want the best for this team and I think this team that we have coming in, they’re going to be strong.

“We have a lot of good recruits coming in that are going to push the competition on this team. We have a great coaching staff. I think this is the year that I think we have a great opportunity going as far as we can.

“To be in a position to lead this team is a huge honor and I want the best for the whole team and make it as far as possible.”

He already helped St. Albert get through a heartbreaking moment and start moving on to better days, and it’s clear that he’s ready to do something similar for the Wildcats.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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