“The Chaos…I Feel Better in Those Situations”: In Conversation with Frank Nazar
Frank Nazar III discusses his recovery from surgery, Detroit, seniors, and the upcoming postseason
Not every athlete’s arrival is obvious. Some players produce straight away at such a high level that you never even conceive of them as up-and-comers. Others toil for years as prospects with limitless potential, then, without warning, turn thirty, and retirement beckons. Neither case describes Frank Nazar III.
The Mount Clemens-born freshman authored as definitive an announcement of his collegiate arrival as you could imagine.
It was the Duel in the D: Michigan and Michigan State in Little Caesars Arena. Before the largest indoor crowd at a college hockey game this season, in just his second career game, Nazar recovered a loose puck in the neutral zone, raced in on goal, mishandled the puck, then wired home his first career goal anyway.
He pulled his hand from his glove, then lifted it to his ear, miming a phone. “I’m back,” he mouthed toward a fortuitously placed camera. After the game, he explained the gesture with an Eminem impression: “It’s why they call me Slim Shady I’m back.”
Four months earlier, you could have been forgiven if you didn’t see this moment coming. Sure, Chicago selected Nazar in the first round a few months prior, but the then-eighteen-year-old had just undergone surgery to remedy a lower-body injury. There was hope he could return around this time but no certainty.
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According to Nazar, there is only one place to begin the story of his recovery:
“First thing, I’d just like to say thank you to all the people that helped along the way. It was a hard thing, and the guys here—all my teammates and all the staff—they really did a good job helping me and supporting me throughout it. It was a long time that I just put a lot of work into, and these guys here put a lot of work into.”
He cites Eric Ciccolini and Jacob Truscott as two teammates who were indispensable in getting him back on his feet. “All the seniors honestly were really good at just helping us get along with all the other guys and kind of bring us in as a team. And for me, Eric Ciccolini…we kind of bonded along well, like off the bat,” Nazar explains. “And Jacob Truscott helped me a lot. Jacob and Eric were driving me to the rink when I couldn’t walk, and so they helped me a lot with that.”
When asked if there was a moment he feared missing the season, Nazar responded, “Honestly no. When I found out what was happening, I was just focusing on playoffs.”
Despite the confidence oozing from him, the coincidence of Freshman Fall and a major injury was bound to produce challenges.
“It was a little bit awkward at first,” Nazar acknowledges, before adding that his time away from the rink made him appreciate his return all the more. “Just walking around with all my teammates, and people are like ‘Oh, you’re on the hockey team,’ and then it’s like ‘Oh, I’m not playing, I’m hurt.’ That was a little awkward at first, but once people started to recognize me and I started making more friends, they knew that I was gonna be out for a little bit. And then, now that I’m coming back, it’s even more exciting because now I got people coming and supporting, and then hopefully we’ll have a big crowd this weekend at the games, and then it just makes it more fun.”
Michigan encouraged Nazar to build slowly, ensuring that he had a week or two to reacclimate to full-speed practice before returning to game action. Still, there is no substitute for game reps.
“I’d say the biggest difference is just the speed, and obviously, drills are drawn up so you kinda know what’s gonna happen in practice, but once you get into a game, it’s just built-in chaos, so it’s nothing that you can really predict too well,” the freshman explains. “That’s why you practice, that’s why you have spots, and that’s why you try to predict what your teammates are going to do. But when it comes down to it, nothing’s going to reenact the game.
“Me personally, I think it’s better. The chaos…I feel better in those situations, so just getting in those games and getting that feeling again and kind of getting caught up to date with the speed and those chaos moments, I think that helped.”
According to Nazar, his first game—against Michigan State on February 10th in East Lansing—was “a little bit of a shock,” but he did manage to sneak a between-the-legs pass over to linemate Jackson Hallum on a two-on-one rush in the third period.
One night after his debut, Nazar scored that first collegiate goal at the Duel in the D. Between the puck bouncing off an official’s skate preceding the rush and his own mishandle as he approached Spartan goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, the play typified the chaos he attests to thrive in.
“Scoring was pretty cool in front of 18,000 people or something like that,” Nazar says. His own uncertainty about his health meant he hadn’t dedicated much attention to hyping up the game to relatives, but his home town still showed up: “It was kind of nuts, especially being from the town, from Detroit, and having a few family members there and friends there and a lot of people watching. It was pretty cool to score in that atmosphere. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to play that game or not, so I didn't really tell everybody to come, but still a ton of people showed up.”
For Nazar, there could be no better backdrop than Detroit, Little Caesars Arena, and the Duel in the D; it’s no coincidence that Eminem lyrics raced through his head as he scored his first NCAA goal. His passion for hockey traces back to his father Frank Nazar II, a Detroit parking garage, and the Red Wings:
“He owned a parking garage downtown Detroit, before I was even born, and he had parked cars for some of the Wings guys and all the wings fans, and that’s kinda how he became a Wings fan himself.
“And, after I was born, he was just watching the hockey game one day, and when I walked in his room and started watching, he asked if it was something I wanted to try, and I said yeah, so he signed me up from that day and never looked back.”
Though his professional future runs through Chicago, Nazar will never waiver in his affinity for his hometown.
“No matter what I’m from Detroit,” he says beaming. “I’m gonna love the city; I’m gonna love the Wings. And I mean hopefully, when I play against them in the future, then obviously it’s gonna be a love-hate relationship. I’m not gonna hold anything back. I mean, obviously, Chicago is going to be my favorite team moving forward, but like I said, I’m not going to throw any hate towards Detroit.”
That professional future can wait a while longer though; Nazar’s eyes fixate now on the postseason to come. That’s what was on his mind as he rehabbed, and it’s only in sharper focus now.
“My biggest goal is to help the team win,” he explains. “And I mean, getting those games under my belt and starting to feel better as playoffs come, I think that’s the best thing that can happen.”
Senior night now on the immediate horizon, Nazar’s thirst for playoff success intensifies with the reminder of what’s at stake.
“I don’t know if a lot of guys understand what it is to play at Michigan for four years and move on after that,” he says, with the caveat that he too is still learning. “I don’t fully understand, but I have a good grip on how it feels for them to say goodbye to four hard years and fun years at the school. And honestly, it means a lot more than just to them. For us to move on and hopefully do well in playoffs and just get those games in and do one last push for those seniors, so then they can have something to look back on when they look back at their four years here. I think that’s something that, me personally, I push for in practice and games.”
To those who watched it, Nazar’s goal at Little Caesars Arena was a marker of his arrival, announcing himself to the world of college hockey. But that’s not what it was to Nazar himself.
Frank Nazar knew who he was, knew the work he’d put in, and saw this coming—the comeback, the slow but steady return to form, the postseason push. Now he’s ready to make the most of the playoff run he always knew would conclude the story of his surgery:
“Confidence comes from your hard work and what you put in on the ice, and I worked a lot on trying to get back trying to get back in the game.”
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