The Nantucket boys hockey team wasn’t chasing state titles from the very first moment they stepped on the ice in 2008. Building and developing a sports program, especially on an island, takes time. There were players and coaches who helped the program begin, and then develop into what it is today. One of those men was Michael Mabardy, a former Nantucket police officer who tragically passed away last April at the age of 39 following a cardiac event while playing hockey with friends.
Mabardy was an assistant coach on the first ever varsity hockey team. Jack Moran, who returned to the bench this winter, was the head coach of that team. He grew close to Mabardy and when he heard about his passing, Moran wanted to find a way to honor his friend through hockey.
“Mike was a funny guy,” Moran said. “He would be loud but he watched after every one of those kids like they were his own, especially away from the rink. He made it known he was there and if they were messing up, he would let them know it but if they ever fell, he would help them land softly. He was a man with a big heart.”
“When I heard the news, it kind of went into my head almost immediately how to go about remembering him, especially when it came to our hockey team. Once I became the coach again, it went to the forefront as something I really wanted to try to get done.”
Moran approached Nantucket Athletic Director Travis Lombardi about the possibility of creating an award/scholarship in Mabardy’s memory.
“I ran it by Travis. I gave him the whole run down and background of Mike and his involvement with the start of this team and Travis was all about it,” Moran said. “He responded by telling me absolutely, no doubt. I was just so happy Travis didn’t even have a hesitation and was on board from the very beginning because sometimes these things can be tricky.”
The award was handed out Monday night. The recipient was junior Michael Culkins, the Whaler's top defenseman who also served as an assistant captain for his team this year. Culkins was forced to miss several games this year due to an enlarged spleen from mononucleosis. If he had it his way, he wouldn't have missed a game and instead would have just thrown on an extra pad. But while he waited for the necessary clearance, he showed up to every practice skating through non-contact drills so that once he was cleared, he would be ready to handle the heavy minutes his team depended on him for come tournament time. Once he returned, he helped lead the team to their first state semifinal appearance in program history.
One of Mabardy’s close friends on the island, Heather Woodbury, suggested to Moran the idea of creating a scholarship to go along with the award. Moran said he is incredibly thankful for her efforts, and he said that she told him during the ceremony that Culkins will receive a $1,000 scholarship at the end of the year.
“Mike is only a junior, but he can obviously hold onto it before he decides to go to college,” Moran said. “It is a little something that can help him out down the road.”
The description for the award is that it is for someone who is one of the best all-around hockey players who takes their game to the next level, offensively and defensively, and continually shows leadership and dedication to the hockey program.
“Mike (Mabardy) was one of those guys who was just so dedicated to the game in every way,” Moran said. “He just loved it so much. The award is for somebody who is just a great, strong all-around hockey player and a wonderful person. When we came up with the definition of the award, there was really no doubt in my mind that Michael Culkins would get that. He is the epitome of that definition. He really is. He is a great defenseman and boy if he needs to, he can move that puck down to the other end and make things happen. He is a force out there and strong. He does everything well and he reminds me of the character Mike Mabardy had as well.”
Moran said later that night, Culkins texted him saying how honored he was to receive the award and that he wasn’t aware he was eligible for something like this.
“You are definitely deserving of it,” Moran told Culkins.
Culkins reiterated to the Current how honored he was to be the first person to ever receive this award.
“First of all, this season was so outstanding and I see so much potential in the younger kids on the team,” Culkins said. “There are so many people on the team that deserved this award. I am very honored to be the first recipient of the award that honors how the true game of hockey should be played. This season was very special to me, and I know with the same coaching staff we can go further next season.”