Aaron Pionk already impressing ahead of UMD men’s hockey’s opener Saturday

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In just three days the 17th ranked University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) men’s hockey team will begin their quest for a fourth NCAA Frozen Four title as they drop the puck on the 2023-2024 season at AMSOIL Arena Saturday.

In a press conference Wednesday head coach Scott Sandelin said health has been an issue. They haven’t boasted a full set of 15 forwards since week one, although injuries are minor and the team is prepped for anyone.

“Coach says all the time you’ve got to be ready to play with any line,” graduate captain Luke Loheit said. “So it’s good for us. It’s been good for me to play with other guys, and obviously you want to get to know other guys. How they play, their style, because you’re not going to be out there with the same guys every shift so it’s been good.”

Sandelin did say senior forward Blake Biondi has recovered well from shoulder surgery. He is now one of four Hermantown alums currently in the program, including senior Darian Gotz, sophomore Joey Pierce, and now freshman defender, former forward, Aaron Pionk.

“I think he’s emerging here as one of the top guys, really,” Sandelin said. “I don’t want to put all that pressure on him right now, but he is exciting. It’s exciting to see where he’s going to go. He’s 6’1”, he can skate, he’s got really good instincts. A little bit of maybe not quite Neal’s (Pionk) nastiness, but he’s got a really good brain.”

Pionk’s older brother Neal played for UMD from 215-2017, he now skates in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets. The Bullodgs take on Michigan Tech in a one game series Saturday at 7:07 p.m. at AMSOIL Arena.

It is also their U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. During the first intermission, former UMD men’s hockey head coach Mike Sertich will be honored with the US Hockey Hall of Fame Spirit of Life Award. There will also be a ceremony postgame for both teams, including a trophy presentation.