Minnesota Hockey Journal

March 2019

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Page 13 of 31

NEAL PIONK PICKED THE PUCK UP from behind his own net and looked up the length of the ice at Madison Square Garden. The left side looked clear. One quick spin-o-rama to get going and Pionk beat one Montreal Canadien. Then two. Then three, before burying the puck past superstar goaltender Carey Price for the New York Rangers lead and eventual 4-3 win. It's that awareness that has earned Pionk significant playing time (averaging 22:32 per night) and notable discussion in his second NHL season. And that end-to-end skill? It was learned and honed in Hermantown Hockey, where he spent 80-90 percent of his time prac- ticing coast-to-coast moves and spin-o-ra- mas on the ponds and outdoor rinks. "We had five outdoor rinks in Hermantown. I always thought it was the best skating outside or out on lakes because there were no coaches, no scouts, there was nothing," the 23-year-old pointed out. "You just do whatever you wanted. You never got in trouble for trying new moves or being creative. If I made a mistake outside, no one was there watching. No one cared, I was just doing it for myself. I'm sure I start- ed working on those moves out there. " We caught up with Pionk to talk pond hockey, small statures, and champion- ship runs—he's made three, twice in high school and once in college—as he hopes to help the Rangers reach that Stanley Cup Final next. MHJ // You've played in less than 100 NHL games but you've already managed to put your name out there with some impres- sive highlight-reel goals. Where does that sense of scoring come from? Neal Pionk // I definitely don't go out every shift saying, 'this shift I'm going to try and score a high- light-reel goal.' It's more of a check down process, where one thing leads to another. In that situation against Montreal (on Nov. 6), one opportunity led to another, and it just happened that I scored a nice goal. Q&A by Jessi Pierce 14 M H J O N L I N E . C O M | M A R C H 2 0 1 9 Coast to Coast D S H O O T S : R i g h t POSITION: THE PIONK FILE Hermantown HEIGHT: 5' 11" COLLEGE: University of Minnesota Duluth HOMETOWN: Neal Pionk relies on creativity he learned on outdoor rinks to excel his NHL game today

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