25 January 2013

Levin, Nardella and Breslin to be inducted into Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame on Sunday

The Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame flings open its virtual doors to Chicago Wolves chairman of the board Don Levin, former defenseman Bob Nardella, ex-left wing Tim Breslin and eight others during the Induction Dinner on Sunday at the Belvedere Banquet Hall in Elk Grove Village.

While it’s a terrific honor for three people so prominently identified with the Wolves to be together in the same class, it’s more fitting when you understand the ways Levin, Nardella and the late Breslin are entwined.

Whenever anyone asks Levin, who founded the Wolves in 1994 with Buddy Meyers and Grant Mulvey, to name his favorite players over the years, it doesn’t take too many syllables before he says Nardella and Breslin. Not just because they helped his franchise win a lot of games, but because they scored a lot of points in the community with their involvement in multiple causes.

“These are nice people,” Levin said. “I’m happy for them.”

Nardella, a Melrose Park native, spent eight seasons with the Wolves and piled up 59 goals and 239 assists in 476 regular-season games while playing important roles on the 1998, 2000, and 2002 championship teams.

Breslin, an Addison native, was one of the first three players signed by the Wolves in 1994. He was a mainstay during the franchise’s first five seasons and provided 37 goals and 82 assists in 330 games while helping Chicago win the 1998 Turner Cup.

Nardella and Breslin didn’t just share a locker room for several years. They were tight virtually from the moment they started playing hockey together (when they were 7 years old) until Breslin’s passing on Feb. 9, 2005, of complications from appendiceal cancer.

“They were more like brothers than teammates,” said Jami Breslin, Tim’s widow.

“I was pretty much excited hearing about this honor because I’m going in with Tim,” Nardella said. “He was a friend my whole life.”

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Nardella, who worried his lack of size might not work in the International Hockey League, spent the first three years of his professional career in Italy. Breslin, who was two months and joined the IHL straight out of college in 1991, was the one who encouraged Nardella to come home and told him he belonged.

Though Nardella retired after the 2005-06 season, he remains the highest-scoring defenseman in Wolves history with 298 points and ranks fifth on the team’s all-time register. He also played for Italy in the 1998 and 2006 Winter Olympics. He ranks those Olympic moments behind his three Wolves championships on his hockey highlights lists --- and realizes how fortunate he has been.

“I met my wife because of hockey,” he said. “I made countless friends through hockey. Many of my customers (he found RJM Supplies in 1998) are through hockey. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Nardella’s family and friends will fill two tables at Sunday’s banquet, which will be a nice turnout. The Breslin contingent, meanwhile, might need its own separate dining hall. “There’s going to be a huge group,” Jami said.

All three of Tim and Jami’s children --- 14-year-old Shane, 10-year-old Paige, and 9-year-old Chase --- inherited the hockey bug from their dad. Paige and Chase play for the same Cyclones Squirts team based out of west suburban Geneva.

“Their teammates are coming to the dinner,” Jami said. “They thought it would be a good way to support the Breslin family. It’s really kind of cool.”

Jami is especially excited for Tim’s parents, Jim and Kay. They continue to honor their son’s memory with the effort they put into the Tim Breslin Memorial Scholarship that’s funded by Chicago Wolves Charities --- and Jami appreciates that they can be on the receiving end of this honor.

“One of the things we’re most excited about is Tim’s dad and mom are so proud of this,” Jami said. “They supported his whole hockey career. It’s Tim’s dad that he gave his Turner Cup ring to. It’s great that his parents are here to celebrate Tim’s memory again.”