Remembering the 'consummate teammate'
UND captured the NCAA national hockey title in 1987. Many believe that team, known as the Hrkac Circus, was the best in school history. Perry Nakonechny was a member of that 1987 team. He may not have received as many headlines as Tony Hrkac or B...
UND captured the NCAA national hockey title in 1987. Many believe that team, known as the Hrkac Circus, was the best in school history.
Perry Nakonechny was a member of that 1987 team. He may not have received as many headlines as Tony Hrkac or Bob Joyce, but the Dauphin, Man., native was a driving force in the team's national championship.
"He was the glue that held us together," said Jeff Bowen, a 1987 teammate.
Nakonechny died Wednesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 47.
The former Sioux player who later coached hockey at Grand Forks Red River High School was remembered as a great teammate and even a greater family man by those who played with him.
Nakonechny played for UND from 1983-87 and also spent six seasons coaching Red River hockey, three of them as the head coach.
"He was the consummate teammate," said former Sioux player Brad Berry, now an assistant coach with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. "When there was adversity or when times were tense, he found ways to make light of the situation. But he also knew when to be serious at the right time. He was the settling influence in the locker room.
"The biggest thing about Perry is that he always gave, but never took."
And he gave to his family first and foremost.
Scott Koberinski, another former teammate, recalls a heart-warming family moment in 2005 when hockey great Wayne Gretzky -- known as The Great One -- made an appearance at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Nakonechny's son, Tyler, who has cerebral palsy, had the opportunity to shake hands with Gretzky.
"Someone said, 'Tyler, wasn't it great to shake hands with The Great One?' " Koberinski said. "But Perry chimed in, 'No, Mr. Gretzky should be honored to meet my "Great One."
"Tyler was the Great One in Perry's eyes. That was really touching. Perry always put his family first."
Nakonechny also put his players first when he coached at Red River. He served as an assistant from 1987-90 before taking over in 1990.
"He expected a lot from his kids, but he treated everyone the same," said Tarek Howard, another of Nakonechny's teammates. "He was a very good mentor. More important, he was an incredible father."
His former UND coach, Gino Gasparini, said Nakonechny put his teammates first, as well.
"Perry was just a wonderful player to have on your team," Gasparini said. "He may not have been blessed with the most skill compared to others, but he had the heart, determination and personality that melded with everybody.
"On great teams, there are those guys that create team chemistry. And Perry was one of those guys who fit into that category. He had both feet on the ground. He worked hard, had great values and knew what had to be done.
"I don't know if anyone has been dealt the cards Perry was dealt, but I don't know of anyone who met that challenge with such grace and determination. He really touched a lot of people."
His former teammates also remembered the lighter side of Nakonechny.
"He was a jokester, too," Howard said. "When we came in as freshmen in 1983, there were 10 of us. And Perry was the only one who had a car. He had us doing little tasks for him just to get a ride. He was pretty funny."
Nakonechny, who was a Grand Forks School District technology coordinator, battled cancer to the end.
Recently, a golf tournament was held in his honor in Grand Forks. His former teammates and others associated with Sioux hockey attended the event.
Nakonechny made a brief appearance at the tournament.
"He was just wonderful to be around and to have him at that tournament, although it was brief, meant a lot," Koberinski said. "It was his way of saying he appreciated everything and that he'd keep battling.
"He was a dear friend, and he'll be missed."
Nakonechny played four years for the Sioux. The four-year letterwinner played in 144 career games. The winger scored 27 goals and added 38 assists.
He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Mickie, daughter Brenna and son Tyler.
Visitation is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Holy Family Catholic Church in Grand Forks, with a prayer service at 7 p.m.
The funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Family, with visitation one hour before the service.
Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .