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Rookies Soaking in First Skate With Blueshirts

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

There was Michael Grabner and Marc Staal skating beside Kevin Shattenkirk and shooting on Henrik Lundqvist. While Monday may have been an informal skate at the MSG Training Center, it was a special experience for two rookies hoping to join those veterans with the Rangers this season.

Defensemen Neal Pionk and Vince Pedrie were part of the group of about 10 players for a light skate, as players begin returning to New York with training camp just over two weeks away.

Being able to share the ice with those players was special for the two, both of whom signed with New York last spring as college free agents.

"It was very cool. It was pretty surreal," Pionk told "It's something that you kind of dream of as a kid and now you're out there playing hockey with them. It's pretty cool. Once we stepped on the ice we were all just playing hockey, so my nerves settled a bit."

So there were some early jitters?

"A little bit," Pionk said with a laugh. "It was a weird feeling, but once you step on the ice, it's all good."

Pedrie has been in the New York area most of the summer training with Ben Prentiss in Connecticut, and has been around NHLers for most of the offseason. But Monday still put a smile on his face, and served as the start of a learning experience that will last the rest of the season.

"Any time you get to step on the ice with those guys, you're just trying to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as you can, whether it's just watching their reps or asking them questions about what you can do," Pedrie said. "It's obviously a really cool feeling to watch those guys."

After wrapping up his final season with Penn State that saw him post 30 points in 39 games, Pedrie impressed in his short stint with Hartford, registering five assists in nine games with the Wolf Pack.

Pedrie, 23, said he tried to not overthink his training regiment this season, but did credit Prentiss with getting him into top shape heading into his first NHL camp.

"I treated it just like - I don't want to say like a normal summer - but I wanted to work as hard as I could," Pedrie said. "Ben's been awesome and I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life because of him. I'm confident that when the season comes, I'll be ready to go."

Like Pedrie, Pionk, 22, has also spent his summer in Stamford with Prentiss and his team.

With training camp on the horizon, the reality of the first full professional season for both blueliners is beginning to set in.

"I'm looking forward to getting the season started," said Pionk, who had 34 points in 42 games a year ago at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. "There's mixed emotions: anxious, nervous and excited all at the same time. Just trying to patiently wait and I'm excited to get things going."

For Pedrie, he's hoping time goes fast until the games begin.

"I'm pumped," he said with a smile. "I've been waiting for the last couple weeks. You know you want to hit fast forward and play that first game. I can't wait to start playing and get the season going."

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