Ellen Schmidt, Daily File Photo
Defenseman Tyler Nanne is halfway through his first season patrolling Minnesota’s blue line, and he isn’t taking playing time for granted.
The defenseman never played a game for Ohio State, his first college team, due to a heart condition. He found out about it prior to his time with the Buckeyes and the condition kept him off the ice.
Nanne couldn’t skate for a year. Once he got to Minnesota, he could only practice the first season he was there due to NCAA transfer rules. Eventually, he was cleared by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The team doctors at Minnesota reached a compromise, Nanne said, and cleared him to play hockey again.
He will now face his former team, Ohio State, for the first time since he transferred to Minnesota. The Gophers travel to Columbus, Ohio this weekend.
“It was a scary time in my life, but I was grateful to overcome it,” Nanne said. “Transferring back here, it’s been a blessing. It’s been awesome to be in the home city, and playing for the Gophers has always been a dream of mine.”
Nanne, until the start of this season, hadn’t seen the ice in a game in over two years. The defenseman enrolled to play hockey at Ohio State after his high school career ended at Edina in 2014 with a state championship.
He spent a year playing in the United States Hockey League before he got to college, but he didn’t see any action on the ice with the Buckeyes.
Minnesota has been used to seeing the Nanne name around 3M Arena at Mariucci. His grandfather, Lou, started the family affair in the 1960s when he played across the street at the old Mariucci Arena, now the Maturi Pavilion.
Tyler’s father, Marty, also played for the Gophers. His cousin, Vinni Lettieri, started playing in the American Hockey League after he finished his collegiate career with Minnesota.
“He’s a character in the room, always keeping things light,” Lettieri said. “Last year, just him practicing, he really pushed us and we pushed him to get better, even though he wasn’t playing and I think that really helped him set himself up for this year.”
Lettieri was a senior last season when Nanne joined the team, but the forward only got to see his cousin in practice while they were teammates at Minnesota.
Now that Lettieri has graduated, he said he still talks to Nanne every day about his adjustment to college hockey.
“He’s taken a couple of years off for health issues, but he’s adjusted really well,” said defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf. “For a guy to go through that type of injury, you have so much stress on your everyday life, the way he handles everything, it’s really cool to watch.”
Zuhlsdorf and Nanne were teammates when they won the state title at Edina. They were defensive partners that season, when Nanne was a senior and Zuhlsdorf was a sophomore in high school.
Both players were on the same team once again when Zuhlsdorf was a freshman last season and Nanne was back practicing with Minnesota. The two were defensive partners again to start this season.
“It’s funny that all of the pieces fall together,” Nanne said. “It’s been good, Ryan’s an awesome player, [it’s] fun to play with him. [He’s] a great teammate. Anytime you can play with one of your high school buddies, it’s always fun.”
Nanne found his way onto the ice this year after high-profile defenders left the team.
With former defensemen Jake Bischoff and Ryan Collins in NHL organizations, the opportunity to create some offense and be a successful defenseman on power play was open. Nanne took that position.
Growing up as a forward and a defenseman, Nanne has the tendency to jump up into the offensive play and skate down the length of the ice with the puck. He has had two goals and four assists through 18 games. His ability has helped the forwards and the team’s scoring.
While he adjusted right away, assistant coach Mike Guentzel said, Nanne can continue to grow more comfortable. He said he hopes the break is beneficial to take Nanne’s mind off of the game.
“The game will slow down for him mentally,” Guentzel said. “I think that’s biggest thing for him, is to have it slow down and feel more comfortable, and now realize ‘OK, I can handle this and I can play and do some things to impact the game positively.’”