Ask any young hockey player who their favorite player to watch while growing up was and you will come up with some pretty standard answers: Gretzky, Lemieux, Ovechkin, Crosby, McDavid.
Ask senior Notre Dame defenseman Bobby Nardella, and the answer you will get is a little different.
“(My dad) was my favorite player to watch growing up.”
In fact, Nardella considers his father, Bob, as one of the greatest influences on his hockey journey.
“When I first started playing hockey, the thing I remember most is playing in my living room with my little brother and my dad. Watching my dad play growing up, he played professionally for a long time (as a member of the AHL Chicago Wolves and the Italian National Team). Those are probably the best memories I have as a kid.”
Deciding to come to Notre Dame was a natural choice for Nardella, who hails from Rosemont, Illinois (just outside of Chicago). Nardella fell in love with Notre Dame when he visited for the first time. He grew up playing in youth hockey tournaments held at Notre Dame and has fond memories of the experience.
“I always remembered how nice it was here,” he said.”The facilities that they had and the campus and everything. When I got the opportunity to come visit again I knew that I would love it again right away. It’s a very special place.”
In fact, as a young teenager Nardella was actually present at the Compton Family Ice Arena Dedication Game on Nov. 18, 2011, when the Fighting Irish beat Boston College with 1.1 seconds left in overtime thanks to a goal from current NHLer Bryan Rust.
“I remember the atmosphere, it was just crazy,” Nardella said. “The fans were going wild and it was very loud. That was my first impression of Notre Dame hockey.”
Several years later Nardella and the rest of the Fighting Irish are the ones responsible for creating an electric atmosphere in Compton Family Ice Arena. The journey from cheering in the stands to battling on the ice has not been lost on him.
“At that time it was just being a fan and taking in the noise and the atmosphere made me realize that Notre Dame was for sure a hockey school. One of the best programs in the country. Now being here it’s very cool that I’ve been able to have been a part of those atmospheres, (such as) the Big Ten Championship games. I am extremely lucky to be here and to have gone through that.”
In fact, Notre Dame’s Big Ten Championship victory last year over Ohio State thanks to an overtime goal from Cam Morrison is a memory that Nardella will carry for the rest of his life.
“When Cam Morrison scored, I’ll never forget jumping off the bench and skating to the pile and jumping on the pile. Especially being our first year in the league, it was the best feeling I have had playing hockey for sure.”
The Irish had a stunning season last year that ended with an appearance in the national championship game where they fell in a 2-1 contest to Minnesota Duluth. But the Irish dominated play in the first year as a part of the Big Ten. Nardella regards the season as a very good learning experience.
Having been named an alternate captain for the season, Nardella considers it an honor that his teammates and coaches have belief in him as a leader.
“I am a leader by example,” Nardella said. “I like to do my leadership on the ice, but at the same time I like to keep it lighthearted. I like to have fun, I like to make jokes with everyone but also when the time comes I know when it’s time to bear down and get the job done.”
When it comes to his personal playing style Nardella is a defenseman that is not afraid to spring into offensive action but also knows when to stay back and guard his goalie.
“I consider myself an offensive defenseman. I like to jump in the play when I can. I like to create offense but only when the time is right. I know I’ve got to pick and choose my spots to go up in the play, but I’ve got to take care of our own zone first and protect our goalie Cale. Try to limit the offensive players time and space and take away any scoring chances.”
Nardella is keenly aware that at Notre Dame he is a part of something much larger than just him. He says “every time I put on that jersey I know that it’s time to go to battle with my best friends. You’re playing for your teammates and coaches and fans. It’s a reminder that you’re playing for something that is a lot bigger than yourself.”
Despite being aware of his part in something bigger, Nardella still considers family to be “the most important thing in my life.” In the recruitment process it was very important to him that Notre Dame’s proximity to home would allow his family to come see him play. If you ask Nardella’s father in the stands who his favorite hockey player to watch is, you will not have to look very far to find his answer.