When Tyler Nanne steps onto the ice at Colorado College on Friday night for the Gophers season opener, he'll be doing so not only with a captain's 'C' on his sweater but also perspective from his heart.
"Just the fact that I'm alive is No. 1,'' the senior defenseman said, "and No. 2 is the fact that I can live out my dream playing hockey. It makes it that much more special.''
Four summers ago, the chance of even playing hockey was a long shot for Nanne, the first third-generation player in Gophers history, following his grandfather, Lou, and father, Marty. Tyler began having fainting spells, and the situation eventually worsened.
"We were lucky because in June  he went to the Rangers camp and fainted and didn't tell anybody,'' Lou Nanne recalled. "They thought he was dehydrated. And then a few weeks later, he was playing golf at Spring Hill, and I saw him lying down on the practice green. I thought he wasn't feeling good.''
During a trip to western Wisconsin for a reunion at the family's cabin, Tyler was staying in Amery and fainted while showering. He was rushed to the town's hospital, which fortunately was only a couple of minutes away. "His heart [rate] was at 252, so they had to put the clappers on to save him,'' Lou said.
"I essentially had a heart attack,'' Tyler said.
Tyler later was taken by ambulance to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, where during more than a week of tests doctors determined he had myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus. The condition can affect the heart's electrical system and cause abnormal and rapid heart rhythms.
To Ohio State and back
Nanne, who led Edina to hockey state championships in 2013 and '14, was set to begin his freshman season at Ohio State when he was stricken. While in Columbus that school year, he had to wear a heart monitor for four months and fly to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester every month for checkups. However, he couldn't receive medical clearance from Ohio State to play again, leaving him a decision about whether hockey was in his future.
He decided it was and transferred to Minnesota.
"When Coach [Don] Lucia gave me the opportunity to come, it was a no-brainer because growing up as a Gopher fan, I always wanted to be a Gopher,'' Nanne said. "I committed here not knowing if I would be able to play hockey again, so it was a good Plan A and a good Plan B.''
He began skating again in the summer of 2016 but had to sit out the season as a transfer while working to receive medical clearance.
"Constant, constant trips to the Mayo Clinic,'' Lou Nanne said. "He probably saw over 20 doctors until he finally got approved.''
"It was a big relief,'' Tyler said of the medical clearance that allowed him to begin his Gophers career in 2017-18. "In the first meeting with the doctor, he was pretty certain I wasn't going to be able to play. We met with multiple different hospitals and tried to work through it the best we can, while staying inside the guidelines of — if it wasn't safe for me to play, I'm not going to play.''
Nanne tried to stay positive through the process.
"I knew it was an uphill battle, but I knew if I was in good spirits, I'd get through it,'' he said. "God was No. 1 and family was No. 2. If you have those two things, you're going to be in good hands no matter what.''
Back on the ice
When Nanne returned to the ice as a Gophers sophomore in the fall of 2017 — after a 1,000-day layoff — something was missing: His game.
"The game was a lot faster than I remembered from juniors,'' he said. "And I didn't realize the amount of rust I had.''
He played in 37 games that season, collecting four goals and six assists. Last season, he started slowly but came on in the second half, finishing with five goals and eight assists.
"My confidence level was up, and my play was up,'' he said, "and I kept that going in the summer and into this season.''
Teammates voted Nanne, 23, as one of the Gophers' captains, along with a fellow Edinan, sophomore forward Sammy Walker.
Nanne, with Walker's help, will be asked to lead a young but talented team. The Gophers, who went 18-16-4 last season, have 11 freshmen and lost four of their top six scorers and all three of their goaltenders from last season.
Challenges will come quickly, with Oct. 25-26 home-and-home series against two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth following next weekend's home-opening series against Niagara.
"He'll be great at it,'' Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of Nanne's captaincy. "He really cares deeply about this program.''
Nanne is thankful that he has a chance to not only lead but to play.
"It was a test of my faith to keep believing,'' he said. "… You look at these kids in the hospital that have way more severe injuries or disease than I do. It makes you that much more blessed and grateful to be here.''