His road to being named the head coach for the Chicago Wolves in mid-June is lined with a legacy across almost every local rink, as Bob Nardella played in Oak Park and Rolling Meadows and for such teams as the Chicago Jesters, Chicago Minor Hawks and Chicago Young Americans, plus he coached multiple national championship teams for the Mission.
Nardella is the 13th head coach in team history, replacing Brock Sheahan.
“My path was paved by the structure of Illinois hockey, AHAUS, as it was called,” before being renamed AHAI, Nardella said. “I started playing house league, then A, AA and AAA, juniors, and eventually college and pros. I had almost the same path in coaching, having started coaching house league hockey in Franklin Park, then to Glenview, Team Illinois and the Chicago Mission.”
The Wolves finished 35-29-5-3. Their 78 points landed them in 6th place in the 7-team Central Division of the Western Conference – and didn’t make the AHL playoffs.
“Being named the Wolves head coach is a dream, though I never envisioned (this position) having been a (Wolves) player and assistant coach for so long. It just kind of came about quickly. This is a tremendous opportunity and I’m very lucky.
“I just feel I have Wolves blood running through my body since I’ve been around here for so long.”
One of the most accomplished players in Wolves history, Nardella was promoted to assistant coach on July 12, 2017, after serving two seasons as skills development coach and three seasons as a part-time assistant for the franchise.
A former defenseman, Nardella ranks second on the team’s all-time regular-season list for games (476), fifth in assists (239) and sixth in points (298) after spending six full and three partial seasons with the Wolves. He was a key player when Chicago won the 1998 and 2000 Turner Cups as well as the 2002 Calder Cup.
Nardella also skated for the Wolves in the team’s inaugural season, 1994-95.
His pro playing career also includes seasons in Italy and Germany – and two appearances in the Winter Olympics with the Italian National Team.
“We’ve created a culture (in my early years playing for the Wolves) that I really believe I was a big part of. We have certain standards here, certain ways of doing things, the Chicago Wolves’ ways – and we try to implement them to anyone who plays here,” Nardella said.
During his six seasons as a full-time assistant, Nardella, 55, helped lead the Wolves to the 2022 Calder Cup championship, the 2019 Calder Cup Finals and four Central Division titles — 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022.
“Having been a member of the Wolves family for decades, no one embodies the organization’s team philosophy more than Bob. His accomplishments as a player are well-documented, but it’s his skills as a coach that make him the perfect man to lead the Wolves during the 2023-24 season,” said Wolves general manager Wendell Young.
Nardella will be on the Wolves bench with only one assistant, as opposed to the traditional two; and the Wolves will skate as an independent AHL team without an affiliation to an NHL club during the 2023-24 season. The Wolves’ home opener is Saturday, Oct. 14 at Allstate Arena.
“Being the head coach is a lot more responsibility. Instead of making suggestions, you make decisions. There’s a little more pressure, a little more intensity, but I welcome the challenge,” Fisher said.
After all, his entire career – playing and coaching – has been pressure-packed.
And memory-filled, too.
During his last season playing AAA hockey locally in the mid-1980s, he often skated at the Saints Spectrum which, in late 1995 was purchased by the Bridgeview Park District and underwent a modest renovation.
As a major peewee team with the Chicago Minor Hawks, he skated in the state championship game against the Hawks peewee minor team – and Nardella’s favored team lost.
“That’s a big memory,” he said, laughing.
Nardella coached a Mission U12 team that won a national championship – with his son Nicholas scoring the overtime, game-winning goal. “That was a great thrill,” he said. He also coached a Mission U16 team that won a national championship. “Those are two great coaching memories,” he added.
Nardella was inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Keep dreaming,” Nardella said to all Illinois players. “You have to have dreams and beliefs that you can achieve things. Shoot for the moon; it’s not impossible (to achieve). And appreciate all the time and money that your parents spend,” so you can play.
“The Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame was a tremendous honor. There are so many good people, good players who are in the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame. It truly is an honor to be in the Hall alongside them. That was a great recognition by the state.”