Guess who’s back? Joe Nardi and Ben Newhouse return to the Northern Michigan University Wildcats ice hockey team as captains | News, sports, jobs
MARQUETTE Guess who’s back, back again?
This lyrics from a popular Eminem song from 2002, referring to himself, may apply to Northern Michigan University’s ice hockey captains as well.
After finishing their senior season last year, Captain Joe Nardi and Deputy Captain Ben Newhouse have decided to return to their positions this season after being given an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October, the NCAA announced that winter sports student athletes who competed in the 2020-21 season would receive an additional eligibility season and year to graduate.
Last week, both Nardi and Newhouse said they were happy with their decision to return to the Wildcats.
“Everyone in this position in their career has to decide if they want to go professional, and of course in a normal year you wouldn’t have the opportunity to return for another year.” said Nardi. “But because of COVID and how everything is working out, from the NHL to the East Coast (Hockey League, now ECHL), I spoke to my parents and the coaching staff and we stuck together for a long time.” – Lasting relationship during this process.
“When the dust settled, I thought it would be in my best interests to return to Northern and allow myself not only to produce but also to grow as an individual and a player. The fact that so many guys are coming back and adding new players seems to be a really promising year and something I want to be part of.
“Not many people in college hockey can say they played five years and got the opportunity we were given. So I just thought it would be in my best interest to take this opportunity and run with it. “
Newhouse said the return is an opportunity not only to play in front of fans again, but also to get his masters degree.
“Last year, when we heard that we could have the fifth year, I first wanted to he said. “There was no real urge for me to try to play professional hockey right away. Even after the year I really didn’t think about it, but everything somehow fit together perfectly. I will be able to complete my master’s degree, which I think is important. I don’t know if I could have finished if I left after last year and if they hadn’t given us that extra year.
“Of course I’m grateful for that. The way the year ended, and the year as a whole, I really would like to have a more pleasant final year in college. Not being able to play in front of the fans in Marquette was, I think, something I would have been very disappointed with if I (had to) quit my college career and say that I had never been able to would be to play in front of the fans.
“I only had a year off so I would have been really upset about it. So there are some unfinished business stuff and obviously it went with the school stuff too, where it really worked. So I’m really excited.
“I think it was a good learning experience to have just going through the decision making process to decide if this is what I wanted to do. That’s why I’m very happy about it and don’t regret it. “
Looking back at last season, the Wildcats pretty much had the definition of a roller coaster year. They got off to a difficult start, then caught fire on the track and made it to the WCHA championship game for the second time in four years. Both players said it got difficult at times, but in the end they got through things.
“Of course it’s tough” said Nardi. “It’s not ideal, but I think you have to keep a positive attitude, especially when you’re an older man. Come to the rink with a good attitude and bring good energy. If you stay frustrated and bring that into the field, the young guys and the other guys on the team can see that.
“For me, I just wanted to keep playing the way I played. Play consistently, work hard in every game. I knew at some point that we had the ability, skill and work ethic in the group to turn the season around and it was only a matter of time.
“Just stay positive, stay on the right track and obviously the coaching team did a great job pushing us and enabling us to get back on track.”
The Wildcats eventually figured things out, but they had a tough climb ahead of them as they had to play at least four street games in the WCHA playoffs.
In the end, however, they defeated Bowling Green State in the first round and caused a big surprise from Minnesota State-Mankato in the semifinals before falling in a tough championship game against Lake Superior State.
“The end of the year was a good positive move and leaves a slightly better taste in the mouth than if we lost to Bowling Green. I think it would be a pretty shitty year. “ said Neuhaus. “I think there were a lot of positive aspects that we could take away at the end of the year.
“I think we have a really solid group that is coming back for next year, but at the same time there are still unfinished business and we have things that we still want to achieve.
“I think if you look at the season as a whole it was probably a C grade most of the time, but I’d probably give an A grade for the last five games.”
From an individual point of view, it was an impressive season for both players. Nardi had a breakout year offensively, leading the Wildcats with 33 points and finishing second with 12 goals. He also finished second in the WCHA and ninth national points.
“I had conversations with (head coach) Grant (Potulny) the previous summer, which led to my senior year. We talked about adding an offensive flair and producing, and I really worked on that over the summer. “ said Nardi. “I worked on my shot and my skills. It was really nice to see how it all came together in my senior year and in a way makes a statement that I have more to give and that I have an offensive side.
“So this is something that I want to build on and still be able to use my skills in these areas.”
Newhouse’s offensive stats may not be that impressive – he had seven points and two goals – but there is one category where he stood above the rest of the country – blocked shots. He finished at 91, which easily led both the WCHA and nationally, but that was something he didn’t expect at the start of the season.
“I think from the start, I didn’t really think much about it” he said. “Even towards the end of the year, it wasn’t in my head. I don’t know, somehow it happened I guess.
“I don’t think it’s quite as big a deal as other people make it out to be, but people on social media made fun of it and made some good jokes about it. And I think it’s funny too. Of course, it is also an advantage if it was able to prevent a few goals.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think I’d end up with 90 blocks or so. I don’t think anyone goes into the year thinking that they will be a “partial goalkeeper”.
“Fortunately, knock on wood, I wasn’t hurt too badly by gunfire, but I think towards the end of the year I started telling people that they didn’t even shoot the net, they just shot me. It was fine with me felt. “
Looking ahead to this year, both players are just glad that things are apparently back to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really looking forward to it, it seems like everything is going back to normal.” said Nardi. “It seems like we have fans in the stands. So just to feel this energy from our crowd again and to see familiar faces in the crowd, in my opinion that was an aspect that was missing this year, only the energy of the students and the energy of the community. You definitely feel it every night when you’re out there.
“I think I can just go back to some kind of normal and play in front of a full audience and experience games outside of conferences, and just the entire journey that college hockey is in.
“As I said, I’m very excited. We have a promising group and everything is back to normal so I think this is going to be a great year and I’m looking forward to it. “
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500 extension. 252. His email address is [email protected]