Northern Star: Nate Pionk
For this week's segment, meet the St. Scholastica men's hockey captain who's creating his own legacy within the program.
DULUTH, Minn. – Hermantown high school hockey is a program that will always stand out across the state of Minnesota.
“It’s a hockey community. You see it all over the news in the state of Minnesota. Just growing up there and playing there, you always had a target on your back, teams would want to beat you being one of the top-ranked teams every year, it was a good pressure that we had. Playing at Hermantown, playing against some good teams there and going to the state tournament and playing some good high-level games there against some really good players has definitely prepared me for where I am today,” St. Scholastica junior forward Nate Pionk said.
While playing for the Hawks prepared Pionk for the college level, so did growing up as one of five boys.
“It was chaotic. My poor mother. It was great. We battled, we competed with each other all of the time,” Pionk said.
“It comes out when it’s time to be competitive. You have a small area game in practice or a battle drill in practice or just games in general, when it’s you versus me, puck’s in the corner, he’s got that little extra competitiveness, probably from getting beat up a little bit when he was younger on the outdoor rinks by his brothers. I think the sibling rivalry certainly has helped groom him from a competitive standpoint,” St. Scholastica men’s hockey head coach Tim Madsen added of Pionk’s competitiveness.
And he’s been able to learn from his hockey family, including from his older brother Neal, a former UMD defneseman who currently plays for the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL
“His work ethic is probably the number one thing I’ve taken from him. I always liked to believe that I was a little more skilled than him growing up, maybe not so much now. He always had that drive, that work ethic to say I’m going to be the best player out there on the ice, every shift no matter what, you’re not going to beat me kind of mentality. We stay in contact and he gives me really great advice,” Pionk said of his older brother Neal.
And in his junior season, Pionk is aiming to continue creating his own legacy in his second year of being captain of the Saints.
“It’s a role that I’m happy to accept. It makes it more fun. You feel like you have a little bit of control of the team. You’ve been there, you’ve done a lot of these things that the freshmen and sophomores haven’t done yet and you can kind of lead by example and show them the way in that aspect,” Pionk said.
“He’s a guy that you want your players to act like, he’s the guy you want representing your program in class, in the community. He’s just a class kid and he’s what we want as a staple of this program regarding the character. He’s still developing his leadership skills. He’s a better leader now than he was last year, he’s going to be a better leader in his senior year than he is right now. It’s all about growing as a person and growing as a player,” Madsen added.
Not only has he become a leader, but he’s become a stronger player. Pionk finished second on the team last year with 21 points, and currently sits second this year with eight.
“Every play he makes is hard. He’s skilled enough to make plays but also ultra-competitive, team-first player, block shots. He’ll basically do anything he’s asked, and he’s got some sneaky skill to back it up,” Madsen said.
As he continues his hockey career, Pionk is looking to bring his hometown team to new heights, all while creating his own identity at St. Scholastica.
“He’s got his own little niche here at St. Scholastica. He’s probably the most popular guy on campus. He knows more people than I do. I have more people bringing his name up then any other person associated with our program and I think that’s the ultra compliment to him as a person, knowing that people are noticing who he is, character-wise. We’re really proud to have him part of the program,” Madsen said of Pionk.
“It’s my hometown, so it was kind of an easy choice in that aspect. Just coming home and being close to family. I try to go out there and work hard every game and that’s what I ask from my teammates. With that, if we can get over that hump of being .500, I really like our chances in a playoff spot and making a run down the stretch,” Pionk added.