Mike Nardella, an instrumental member of the Chicago Wolves’ Hockey Operations department from Day 1 and a legend in Chicago sporting circles for parts of nine decades, passed away Friday morning at the age of 94.
“He was old-time Chicago, old-time hockey, just a great man,” said Wolves owner Don Levin. “We loved him. He was just a really great person. I’m really going to miss him.”
“Big Mike,” as he was known to his friends, became a part of the Chicago hockey scene in the 1930s when he was caught trying to swipe sticks during a Black Hawks game at the Chicago Stadium. The team’s equipment manager made him pay for his misdeed by working for the team — and that led to a lifetime working for the Blackhawks and Wolves and hundreds of their players.
“I was around some of the finest coaches, general managers and ownerships,” Nardella told DNAInfo.com in 2013.
When Levin, Buddy Meyers and Grant Mulvey formed the Wolves in 1994, original head coach Gene Ubriaco encouraged Nardella to join the organization.
“I met Mike and ‘Ubie’ said this is the guy who knows more about Chicago hockey than anyone,” Levin said. “I hired him right then and there. I was just amazed by his knowledge and his talent. He had a lot to do — a lot — with what happened right from the start.”
Serving as the team’s hockey operations adviser, the longtime Melrose Park resident forged connections for the Wolves throughout the Chicago area. For example, Nardella worked with Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley to have Turner Cup championship banners placed at City Hall and O’Hare Airport after the Wolves captured their first title in 1998.
Nardella was a fixture at Wolves home games for two decades. Before games, he’d station himself in the tunnel to provide fist bumps for the players and coaches as they headed to the ice. Then he’d watch the action, wearing one of his trademark Borselino fedoras, from the glass at the west end of the rink.
Nardella served in General George Patton’s Army during World War II and landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day Plus 15. He earned a Purple Heart for his service.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 50 years, Joyce, who passed away in 1999. They had four sons and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.