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Prospects' Parents Enjoying 'Surreal' Week in Traverse City

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

TRAVERSE CITY, MI -- The Rangers' prospects were not the only ones who made the trip for the annual prospect tournament here in Traverse City. 

Several players had family members in attendance to watch the four-game tournament, many of whom were playing in the competition for the first time.

"It's surreal," said Karen Pionk, Neal Pionk's mother. "It doesn't always register. It's the New York Rangers. It's pretty humbling."

Karen Pionk said the experiences of the last few months since Neal signed with the team out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth have been something the family never imagined, especially coming from Hermantown, Minn., with its population of just under 10,000.

"Right after he signed, we flew out to New York, Neal and I did, to bring his contract and paperwork and all that sort of thing," Karen recalled. "We attended the Rangers' last playoff game and we were sitting in the stands and I looked at my son and said 'Madison Square Garden.' We're from northern Minnesota. It's amazing."

Video: Pionk on His First Traverse City Tournament

Even those who have spent their lives around the game of hockey find immense pride in watching the hard work and dedication their sons put into the game begin to pay off.

"It's fun because Ty is a guy who is always an underdog, and I was the same way," said former NHLer Cliff Ronning, whose son, Ty, is the team's captain. "I think growing up around the rinks when I was playing, a young kid with a little stick shooting the ball around and talking to the guys in the dressing rooms and stuff, I think it was something that really drove him to want to be a hockey player."

The honor of Ty serving as captain was special for Cliff, who played more than 1,100 games in the NHL.

"That is a huge honor," he said. "When you look at the players who have put on a Rangers jersey - I know it's the baby Rangers - it's a lot of respect, and he has it for the organization."

While the tournament is something those on the ice will remember forever, for those closest to the players, the accomplishment is just as special, if not more so.

"For me as a parent, it's kind of the thrill of a lifetime," said Larry Pedrie, defenseman Vince Pedrie's dad. "I think every dad that has a kid that plays, you obviously want to see them go as far as possible. Very few kids get the opportunity, so very few dads get the opportunity to see their kids put on an NHL jersey. Anytime you get to do that, you feel pretty fortunate."

The Pedries are no strangers to traveling to watch their 23-year-old play. Throughout Vince's two years at Penn State, the family would travel 10 hours each way from their home in Illinois to attend Nittany Lions games. 

Following Pedrie signing with the organization in March, Larry attended all nine games Vince played in for the Wolf Pack.

 The trip to Traverse City was a bit more manageable at a little over five hours.

Video: Pedrie on Experience at Traverse City

Larry, who made the trip with his wife, daughter and Vince's grandfather, coached Vince as a child, giving him a first-hand look at the sacrifices his son made. Those sacrifices are now beginning to come to fruition as a pro.

"Every kid here has probably had a similar story where they put in the extra effort and put in the extra work," he said. When you see the reward - just the fact that he's out there in an NHL jersey, going to have a chance for an NHL career, you can't find the words to describe how that feels. You feel very humble, very fortunate and just glad to be a part of it."

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