When Wild prospect Louie Nanne left Minnesota to play junior hockey for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), he envisioned the most difficult thing about moving to Canada would be staying with a billet family he’d never met or getting to know an entirely new group of teammates.
However four games into the Vees’ season, Nanne was struck with news that was much more difficult to handle than the day-to-day trials of a junior hockey player. His uncle Michael Nanne, who was one of the Wild’s team dentists since its inaugural season, lost his long bout with cancer. Despite seeing his uncle battle brain cancer for two and a half years, nothing prepares an 18-year-old for that type of loss, especially when they’re in a different country 1,500 miles away from home.
“He was always like a second dad to me,” Nanne said.
Louie returned to Minnesota, missing two games, for the services. It was the strength of his family, which includes his grandfather and Minnesota hockey icon Lou Nanne, which helped get him through the loss.
“We have a very close-knit family, so coming home and dealing with the hardship together helped us get through it,” Nanne said.
Just three days after his uncle’s service, the Edina native returned to the Vees for a game against the Powell River Kings on Sept. 29. His first game back was filled with emotions.
“It was hard to suit up,” Nanne said. “But I felt like I had something to play for.”
Playing with the memory of his uncle, Nanne scored his first goal of the season and added an assist, as Penticton shutout the River Kings, 4-0. He was named the game’s second star.
“It was almost like it took some stress off my shoulders,” the University of Minnesota recruit said. “It helped remind me it’s just a game and to go out there and have fun.”
Since returning to the Vees, Nanne said that he’s been trying not to overthink things so much and just react, which has helped his game. In the four contests since his uncle’s passing, the former Edina Hornet has four goals and four assists, including a hat trick on Saturday, Oct. 6 against the Trail Smoke Eaters. All the while, the Wild’s seventh-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has carried his uncle’s spirit with him.
“He wanted to see me play junior hockey this year,” Nanne said. “Well, he’s seen the past four games is the way I look at it. He’s in a better place and will get to see all my games.”