Senior leadership: Joe Nardi, Ben Newhouse take over as captains of Northern Michigan University hockey team

Northern Michigan University's Joe Nardi, left, gets knocked to the ice by Ferris State’s Zach Yoder in the third period of a WCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Feb. 1. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“It’s allowed us to kind of get back to the fundamentals and work on stuff that you don’t get to work on at the beginning of the year.” — Joe Nardi, NMU hockey senior captain, on not being able to practice due to the coronavirus pandemic


MARQUETTE — The start to the college hockey season has still yet to be determined, but the Northern Michigan University team knows one thing for sure and that is the Wildcats will have experience leading them this year.

Seniors Joe Nardi and Ben Newhouse will be this season’s captains, the school announced recently, and both are up to the task. Nardi was NMU’s assistant captain last year and will take over for the bound-for-the-pros Phil Beaulieu, while Newhouse was one of the few upperclassmen on the roster and was seen as a go-to defensemen down the stretch.

“I think it was a good transition period for me since last year,” Nardi said. “Obviously, being behind Phil and seeing how he conducted himself around the team, that allowed me to kind of learn from him and be able to use that now that I’m in the position where I can lead this team.

Northern Michigan University's Joseph Nardi gets ready for a faceoff against Bemidji State in the third period of their WCHA game on Feb. 15 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“It’s a honor to be named captain and I have a great teammate with me to kind of lead the way as well. I’m really honored.”

Newhouse, who came in as a transfer from Union, became one of the team’s best shot blockers and will be Nardi’s assistant captain. The two have been roommates the past two seasons and that should make things a little easier to run the team.

“We have a good relationship and it’s a super small senior class again with me and Joe and Schultzy (Brandon Schultz),” Newhouse said. “I think the three of us are pretty tight.”

Both players spent time in Marquette over the summer just trying to stay in shape and get whatever exercise that they could with things shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I got Rollerblades, so I did that for a little while this summer, which was pretty funny because it was the longest stretch of time where I hadn’t skated in my entire life probably since like elementary or middle school,” Newhouse said. “It was probably good to get a break like that for a stretch of time. Obviously it’s a unique summer, but for the most part I’ve tried to make the most out of it.”

Northern MIchigan University's Joseph Nardi passes the puck during a game against the Minnesota State-Mankato at the Berry Events Center on Dec. 13. (Journal file photo)

Making the most of it is basically what the Wildcats have been trying to do. They were allowed back on the rink at the Berry Events Center several weeks ago and things are a little different.

“As of right now, for the past three weeks, we’ve split it up into three on-ice sessions and they’re an hour each,” Nardi said. “So we’ve got a forward group, a defense group in the middle and then another forward group.

“It’s been a little bit different, obviously, than usual and it’s allowed us to kind of get back to the fundamentals and work on stuff that you don’t get to work on at the beginning of the year because you’re preparing for other teams.

“We’ve been doing a lot of skill work in tight areas just working on our sticks. It’s been really beneficial and then next week, we get two groups. I think if we just follow protocol like we have and be smart away from the ice, it’s going to allow us to stay in the gym and be on the ice.”

“Obviously, we’re in masks on the ice and things like that,” Newhouse said. “We’re all in different locker rooms, so it’s a pretty unique situation. But obviously, you’ve got to do what you got to do to be able to get back on the ice.”

Northern Michigan University's Ben Newhouse is all smiles as he skates into the Wildcats' defensive zone in the third period of a WCHA game played against Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 11 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Coming in from behind is the Seawolves' Aaron McPheters. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Both have similar strategies on how to approach their roles this year, focusing more on setting an example on the ice instead of being a cheerleader.

“I think I’ll just do what I’ve always done,” Nardi said. “Obviously, you are gonna to be someone that the younger guys look up to for advice seeing as they haven’t seen some of these circumstances.

“But as far as like how I lead, I just like to lead on the ice, kind of let my play dictate, and then when the time is right, speak up.

“The way our incoming freshmen have come in, at this point, you kind of just got to let them run free because they’ve got all the talent in the world and they’re doing a great job in these little small skates.

“I think just letting them be creative out there and they’re going to slowly find their way. Then if they have any questions or need any advice, then when I’ll step in, or Ben will step in.

“Personally, I’m not the most rah-rah vocal type of person,” Newhouse said. “That’s not really who I am I would say.

“It is an older freshmen class, so they’ve had experiences in juniors where they did it on the rink and, obviously, you want to make sure they start to understand everything about how we do things here and how (head coach) Grant (Potulny) wants things done.

“Obviously, it’s just building those relationships with people, I think that’s the most important thing and that’s my perspective on it. If you build relationships with people, you’re able to understand them as people better and start to figure out how they tick. I think that’s the most important thing. When you have everyone on the same page, at the end of the day, you start to really understand them and figure out what makes them the best.

“I would say I’m not the most vocal person but you do have to make sure it’s a welcoming environment, and they’re here to be hockey players. We don’t want them dipping one toe in the water. So they have to be big-time players this year. So obviously, you want to make them as comfortable as possible.”

There’s a lot of what-ifs going into the season and there could’ve been even more had the Wildcats won their first-round WCHA playoff series over Michigan Tech. From Newhouse’s perspective, the early exit may have been a strange blessing.

“Just personally, for me, the one thing I will say about the year ending like it did, I will say I’m a little bit thankful it ended that way because let’s say a week later, you’re driving to (Minnesota State) Mankato or wherever we were supposed to go, Bemidji (State) and things get canceled while you’re on the bus and now, you’re saying ‘What if.’

“I think just looking at it from that perspective, you try to take the positives as well because it gives you a little bit more motivation for whenever we are able to start this year.”

Nardi says the year has been hard on him with so many unanswered questions, but he’s done a lot to change his perspective and thinks that his team is ready.

“When it initially happened, you can’t help but think are we going to have a season or when it’s going to happen, and those thoughts can kind of creep into your head,” he said. “At first, I took it hard, but as the summer went on, I said I can’t control these things.

“As long as I come to the rink with a positive attitude and whenever we would get an opportunity to skate, which has been the last three weeks, you make the best of it. If you come in with a poor attitude, obviously, that’s going to show and other guys of the team are going to see that.

“As far as keeping a positive mindset, that’s what we’ve done. I know the returning guys have all been eager to get back out there and their mindset is great.

“So if we can continue to do that and get better every day, whenever that time may be that we have to step on the ice, I know that we’re going to be ready because our coaches have done a great job preparing us to this point.

“I’m very excited. I haven’t been this excited probably since my freshman year. Now that we’ve gotten the opportunity to skate and be on the ice and be around the guys, it’s really been exciting.

“Especially seeing the additions that we have this year and how positive everybody has been, and how dialed in the coaches are, you just want that season to start. I could start next week and I’d be pumped. Some things you can’t control and it’s just about waking up every day and making something of the day and being positive.”

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


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