Former Minnesota Duluth and Hermantown Hawks defenseman Neal Pionk wasn’t traded just once over the summer.
In addition to getting dealt by the New York Rangers to the Winnipeg Jets in June, Pionk was traded that month from Team BIC to TRIA while playing in Da Beauty League.
“I had a reporter come up to me halfway through Da Beauty League season,” Pionk said. “He said, ‘What do you think about the trade?’ And I said, ‘Which league?’”
Both deals ended up working out well for Pionk. The Jets signed Pionk to a two-year, $6 million deal and later the kid who suffered heartbreaking losses in the state championship in high school and a national championship in college won a Beauty League title with TRIA.
“When we finally won, I realized it was the first thing I'd want in a while,” said Pionk, who sat down last month with News Tribune college hockey reporter Matt Wellens and My9 Sports commentator Zach Schneider to record an episode of the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast.
Produced by the News Tribune’s Samantha Erkkila, new episodes are released every Thursday throughout the season. You can listen to Season 1 and 2 of Bulldog Insider at duluthnewstribune.com, on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or where ever you get your podcasts.
Below are excerpts from this week’s episode.
Normal people like Zach, Sam and I don’t have to worry about our bosses calling us in and saying, ‘Hey, you've been traded to Alabama, pack your stuff, you gotta go.” What is that like to be traded to just have your entire life uprooted?
“Hockey's a unique sport. When you get into junior hockey, you're 16 years old, you can be traded. I've never been traded, whether it was junior or pro, but I've seen some of my good friends get traded. And that was tough in the first place. You think you know what it's like and then one day you come home from a round of golf, and you're laying in bed, and your GM calls you — which never really happens. Ever. You say, ‘Uh oh.’ He said, You've been traded to Winnipeg.’ It's literally like the movie Moneyball — if you guys have seen it — where they just say, ‘You've been traded. Here's the info. See you later,’ and that's it. You don't you don't hear much else. There’s not an ‘I'm sorry.’ It was about 30 seconds long, but that's just the nature of the business. That's what we all signed up for and that's what we know can potentially happen. I've told other people it's not the last time it's going to happen whether it's a trade or waiver signing or whatever.”
What were your two years like not just playing for the Rangers, but living out in New York City? That's a little different from Duluth and Hermantown.
“I'll be honest. The first two weeks, I did not like it. I didn't know how to call a taxi. I didn't Uber. I didn't exactly master it because we didn't have it over here. I kind of knew how to use it, but not really. And then the subway, I just I didn't even have a prayer down on the subway. So those first two weeks are kind of a nightmare. I did not like it. And then I warmed up to it. Now spending a full year there last year, I loved it. People say it's the best city in the world, and I believe them. First off, if you like food, you got every restaurant you ever wanted, and the best-of-the-best in the world, whether it's Italian, steak, seafood, whatever you want. As far as traveling and visiting, it's really easy to get into. When you have family visiting, you have 8 million things to do with them. Then, to top that, playing in Madison Square Garden. I think it's a great city to play in.”
How much did you kind of immerse yourself in the culture and city life in New York?
“A lot. When my family or friends would fly in, I would become a tourist myself — whether it's seeing the Empire State Building or going to the 9-11 Memorial. I actually bought an electric scooter, and we scootered down the West Side Highway to the World Trade Center. So I became a tourist myself to try to learn as much about the culture as I could, and explore Manhattan.”
Having played last season for a former college coach in David Quinn, how do you feel your former coach at UMD, Scott Sandelin, would fare at the pro level?
“Yeah, I think one of Sandy's best qualities is how he adapts and in the NHL, you play 82 games. So guess what? You're going to have to adapt. Guys get hurt, guys get sent down, guys get traded, whatever it is. I think Sandy's gotten really good at adapting, whether it's mid-season or mid-game. I think he'd be a great fit for the NHL.”
What former Bulldog teammate is most likely to end up as a high school hockey coach in Minnesota, maybe the next Bruce Plante? (Not that there's ever going to be another)
“Yeah, that's a tough one to beat. Well ... he's not from Minnesota, nor is he from the United States, but probably Parker Mackay. I know he wants a coach. He's got a good mind for it, so we'll put a little asterisk on it — maybe a junior coach somewhere in Canada.”