Most Norsemen fans are familiar with Nik Hong; the third-year center is a Minneapolis, MN native, he was an alternate captain his first year in St. Cloud and has worn the “C” the last two seasons. Hong put up 49 points in 53 regular season games in his last campaign and he is in his last year in the NAHL before heading off to Dartmouth College. Most things people know about Nik pertain to his hockey abilities, which speak for themselves. But Nik may be a better person than he is a hockey player, and he certainly is more knowledgeable and cultured than most his age.
Nik and his family moved to Russia for his father’s job when he was eight years old and he spent six years on the other side of the world. He didn’t know how to speak or read the language in the slightest and it caused some issues, including being told by his coach at age nine that if he didn’t speak the language he wouldn’t be able to continue playing for Dynamo, his hockey team. Eventually, in order to get more involved in hockey and as a moment of grabbing life by the horns, Nik enrolled in a Russian school when he was in 5th grade.
“When I first arrived in Russia in 2010, I was the American kid lost on the ice who could not understand anything,” Hong admits. “By the time we left in 2016, by taking risks and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I not only learned the language and became a better hockey player, I was also accepted by my Russian teammates and formed strong friendships that I will keep close for my whole life.”
Hong has been productive in his time in the lineup this season, scoring nine points (4-5-9) in 14 games played. Unfortunately he’s been in and out of the lineup a few times. Hong missed the last game of the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, played the next four, missed four, played two and then missed the entirety of the month of November which was seven games. And when calculating the value #19 brings to the ice, the proof is in the pudding; the Norsemen are 8-5-1 with him in the lineup, 4-7-1 when he’s out.
“Anytime you lose a leader or a captain, guys put maybe a little more pressure on themselves that they’re not used to. Hong is kind of a born leader, he does a great job with the ‘C’ on his chest,” compliments St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz. “He takes a lot of ownership in a lot of different aspects of our team. Off the ice, on the ice, penalty kill, talking in the locker room; he has a lot of different dimensions. When you don’t have that, obviously it’s a tough hole to fill but we’re certainly glad to have him back on the ice and in the lineup and doing those little things to help our team have success.”
Was it difficult for Hong to deal with being out of the lineup? Sure, but he has a mature approach and understanding well beyond his years. “It was definitely tough when you’ve had a history of injuries and you’re dealing with that again. The main thing is patience; you wanna go back but you know you’re not ready,” Hong points out. “You gotta be patient, you gotta be smart about it and you gotta take the precautions and do the right physical therapy. It’s good to be back on the ice and feel good again.”
Hong’s second season saw a team that ran away with the Central Division, but they’ve lost a number of big players from last year’s squad. He realizes that this year is going to be a dogfight, but he’s ready for the challenge. “I think we lost a lot of veteran guys from our team last year; we had a lot of leaders, not just the guys who wore the letters. But we had a lot of guys who stepped up and really led by example and helped with a lot of different things,” Hong recognizes. “It’s been a progression this year and a lot has fallen on me but other guys have stepped up. It’s definitely a different role than it was last year.”
On Saturday, December 10th, the St. Cloud Norsemen were hit with tragic news as 17-year-old Charlie Boike, son of Norsemen Billet Coordinator and Game Day Operations Director Erika Boike, was taken from this world in a car accident. Nik admits to not knowing Charlie the best of all the Norsemen players, but he certainly feels the pain the entire Central Minnesota hockey community is feeling.
“It’s horrible and tragic news. Erika and the whole Boike family are such a big part of our organization, they do so much for us,” explains Hong. “Every time you saw Charlie or his brothers, they always have such a bright smile on their face. They’re so joyful and happy and pleasant to be around. You can tell that family is so tight; it’s just heartbreaking.”
Hong and his teammates are off this weekend for the holiday and back at it Friday, December 30th on the road against the Aberdeen Wings to kick off a six-game stretch away from St. Cloud. All of those games can be seen on hockeytv.com. The next game back at the MAC for the Norsemen is on Saturday, January 14th. Tickets are available online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.