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Neal Pionk Youth Hockey Camp Q&A

Rangers defenseman chats about his experience attending hockey camps as a kid

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Some of Neal Pionk's best hockey memories stem from his time attending his father's camp back home in Minnesota. 

The blueliner recently recalled what made those days so special, how him and his friends spent their days there and the importance of having fun as a youth hockey player.

Did you attend youth hockey camps as a kid?

My dad actually ran his own camp so I attended his. It was cool. Obviously I was familiar how everything operated in the camp, and I think for that reason, my dad held me to a pretty high standard. It was cool to have him as a dad away from the rink, and a coach at the rink. It was a lot of fun."

What memories stand out for you when you think back on those days?

Just having guys come from all over the state of Minnesota. We'd even have some come from Canada and some from Wisconsin. Some guys I met at that camp are still some of my best friends to this day. 

What was a normal day like?

We would skate for about three hours each day, have some lunch and even play some baseball for an hour and a half.

Baseball? Why baseball?

My friends and I still talk about it today. We'd play baseball or wiffle ball right after lunch. Then we'd go on the ice for one more 90-minute session. We'd even sometimes watch a movie at the end of the day. It was just fun to do. It's not working out or training on the ice. It's just having fun.

Do you think it's important to bring in other activities other than hockey during the week?

It's incredibly important. I think even now, the mental part of the game - if you're just playing hockey 12 months of the year, you're going to get burnt out. Playing baseball, or soccer or anything other than hockey refreshes you mentally.

How important is it to make sure the No. 1 priority at camp is to have fun?

Hockey has to be fun. During my dad's camp, we'd try to have a competition at the end of the four-day week. Thursday was the last day and we'd have a big scrimmage with the scoreboard on and everything. Everyone loved it. As a counselor the few days, it's also been great watching them get excited.

You and Vince Pedrie got to spend a day at the Rangers' Youth Hockey Camp last summer. What was that experience like for you?

I'm sure Vince would say the same, but I know as a kid, when I went to camps, my dad would have college players come in and I remember being younger and looking up to those guys. For Vince and I to go in there and help out the camp and brighten those kids' days was great. It was really cool to be on the other side of things.

Meet lifelong best friends, improve your skills and have a blast with Pionk and other current and former Rangers at Junior Rangers Youth Hockey Camp. Spots are filling fast. Click to sign up. Deadline to register is May 31.

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