Gophers

Katie Emmer of Fox Sports North interviews Minnesota Gophers defenseman Tyler Nanne (29) during the 2018-19 season at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. (Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics)

MINNEAPOLIS — Tyler Nanne has an engaging smile, but he keeps it hidden well.

The Minnesota Gophers senior co-captain is all business when he meets with the media after games and after practice. As the initial third-generation Gopher in the program’s 99-year history, he seems to understand the responsibility that comes not only with the "C" on the front of his jersey, just above and to the right of the iconic "M," but with the well-known name on the back.

Nanne’s grandfather, Lou, was the Gophers captain in the 1962-63 season before becoming an Olympian and an NHLer. His father, Marty, won a state title at Edina in 1984, then was a Gopher for four years. So seeing a third generation skating for the Gophers in a team leadership position seems like a natural.

For two reasons, it almost didn’t happen.

Buckeyes and back

He had great success in youth hockey, winning a pair of state titles.

In high school, Tyler had pedestrian sophomore and junior seasons at Edina, then blossomed as a senior, serving as the Hornets' captain on the way to a state title. His older brother, Louie, was originally bound for the U of M, then changed course and played college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York instead.

Wanting to blaze his own trail as well, Tyler committed to Ohio State and spent one season there without suiting up for a game.

While in Columbus, Ohio, he learned that his body was fighting a virus that attacks the heart. It kept Nanne off the ice for a year. Unable to get clearance from Ohio State to return to practice, Tyler faced faced a daunting decision about whether he would stay there, and whether the “athlete” part of his student-athlete experience was over.

After much soul-searching and consulting with family, he came home.

“Ohio State was a great fit, and I loved every minute when I was there, but it was always kind of full circle for me to get back here,” Nanne said this week after practice. “I always wanted to be a Gopher.”

Cleared by doctors at the U of M and the Mayo Clinic, he sat out the 2016-17 season under NCAA transfer rules, then hit the ice on defense for the Gophers with three years of eligibility remaining. After half a season on the bench last December, Gophers coach Bob Motzko did not mince words about his need for the team’s defense to improve, and the coach saw encouraging growth from Nanne and the rest of the blue line in the second half of the season.

Learning to lead

Nanne graduated with a degree in business marketing last spring, and could’ve left school to try his hand at pro hockey.

Instead he came back to go to graduate school (where he is studying communications), and to be one of three seniors on this young team. When Motzko announced the results of the team captain vote a few weeks ago, Nanne got one of the positions, as most expected he would.

“He’s a great leader on and off the ice. He’s an older guy that knows his way around campus and knows his around our program,” junior forward Brannon McManus said. “All the guys look up to him, so he was voted captain for a reason.”

Nanne shares the captaincy with Sammy Walker, the program’s first sophomore co-captain. But even after one exhibition game, Walker made it clear that, as a senior, Nanne will handle many of the traditional captain duties, while Walker will serve as a kind of leadership liaison to the team’s wealth of underclassmen.

“He’s a lot prettier and he likes that,” Motzko joked about the 23-year-old Nanne. “He’s an older senior, so we talked about that. We said, ‘Let Tyler handle the pageantry that comes with a college captaincy.’”

Fulfilled by family

Away from the rink, Nanne admits he has been blessed. His father and grandfather have been successful in the wealth management business — a field Tyler hopes to enter when his hockey career is done. Their success has allowed the third generation of Nannes to enjoy things like golf, travel, and summer weekends at the family cabin in Wisconsin.

“I live a pretty good life, I would say. I’m fortunate to grow up in a family that lets me do a lot of things,” Nanne said.

Outwardly, he appears to be all business at the rink. Behind closed doors, the players say Nanne’s sense of humor and his work to build a team from all these separate parts are the traits most teammates see.

“Off the ice, he’s pretty funny and all the guys enjoy him. And then he just works hard on the ice, so he’s a great guy to have the 11 freshmen follow,” said Ben Brinkman, another defenseman from Edina. “If everyone looks and tries to do things the way he does, we should be fine and by the end of the year we can grow into a great team.”

For Nanne, that’s the goal — to win a title as a Gopher. And he knows he has roughly six months to do it.

“We haven’t been able to get it done the past few years so this is a big year for us seniors and for the program,” he said. “As you know, it’s been a long time coming. My dad played in three (Frozen) Fours and my grandpa had some success back here, but they didn’t win a championship, so it would be huge to win one for them and for the state of Minnesota.”

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