It should be not a surprise that Jake Pivonka is following in his dad’s footsteps when it comes to hockey. After all, his dad Michal was his role model in the sport after playing for 13 years with the Washington Capitals.
“More than anyone, he has been that role model,” explained Pivonka, whose dad defected to the United States from Czechoslovakia in July 1986. “He was my coach since I started playing and he pushed me to be my best. He was been there for me, with both my ups and downs.
“He was my mentor — I wanted to be like him. He taught me how to get to this position. He taught me to always give constant effort. He told me [to] do not be afraid to play your game and be your best.”
Pivonka credits his mom Renata for his first foray into the sport.
“I started playing when I was six. My mom put me in it to try it out and I fell in love with hockey,” said Pivonka. “I really liked the atmosphere and the games. I loved being able to hang out with my friends all day at the rink.”
As Pivonka’s love for hockey grew, he ended up moving from Florida to Illinois to continue his passion.
“I lived in Florida for my first 11 years. From there, I moved to Chicago and lived with a billet family to play hockey,” he stated. “My dad then moved up and my mom moved to Chicago after my brother graduated from high school.
“When I lived in Florida, I was only about 20-25 minutes from our local rink [Ellenton Ice Arena in Bradenton]. There were a few other rinks around but they were mostly about one hour away.”
After working to perfect his game while playing for the Chicago Mission, Pivonka made one more move, this time to Plymouth, Michigan, to play for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. He said that it ultimately was an easy decision.
“I looked at the past history of the program, the players it has produced, the perks and being able to play for the best coaches,” he explained. “I could see all the available resources to help in my game. Plus, I’m able to play for my country and that is the best feeling.”
He also was able to get some first-hand advice from current Under-18 players Sean Dhooghe and Graham Slaggert, who were both part of the Mission program before coming to the NTDP.
“They told me that it will be tough your [Under-17] year but this is a good place to be for your development. They told me that the time you spend here will help you as a person and a player,” said Pivonka.
The 5-foot-11, 189-pound forward has taken to heart that advice as he has nine goals and 21 points this season. He credits the program in helping his game grow since his arrival, way back at the end of August.
“I have increased my speed,” he stated. “I am able to read time and space better. We are consistently doing drills, especially 1-on-1 and 2-on-1s in the corners and that definitely helps.”
Plus, he has taken away a few lessons from the U17 coaching staff.
“Consistency and hard work [are important],” explained Pivonka. “It will not be easy but you must come to play. You need to keep a positive mindset. You cannot worry when you are out there rather you must focus and work hard.”
Nothing means more to Pivonka that wearing the colors of Team USA. It’s extra special for him, especially when it comes to international play.
“There are no words to describe what it means to wear the jersey,” he said. “It is a feeling of pride and accomplishment. It makes you realize that it is so much bigger than yourself.
“When we play other countries, we tend to play our best games. We want to show what it takes and it’s always on a bigger stage in international play. We want to show pride since it is country vs. country in international play.”
He does have one favorite opponent from international play from this season.
“When we play Russia,” he explained. “The energy is there and we want to go out and give it our best. We won both of our meetings this year [4-1 in December in Switzerland and 4-3 in February in the Czech Republic].”
Nothing stands out more for Pivonka than winning the gold medal at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, at this point in his hockey career.
“It was the most incredible experience in my life,” he explained. “The atmosphere at the Youth Olympic Games was great. They had huge crowds and the other athletes from U.S. teams came to support us. It was unbelievable.”
There are three games from the tournament that stick out to him.
“We had to play Russia in back-to-back games,” said Pivonka. “We beat Russia in the last game of the tournament and then, had to turn around and beat Russia the next day in the semis. It’s really hard to beat the same team two times in a row.
“After the Canada game [the gold medal game which we won], I just remember throwing my gloves in the air. There was so much happiness and joy.”
For now, Pivonka is focused on the present and finishing his first season with the NTDP. With 10 games remaining, he knows what they need to do to have success.
“We have to keep a positive mindset,” he explained. “We need to keep working to compete with the older guys every night and try to win some USHL games. We need to go out and work hard and not get down on ourselves.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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