Nik Hong found his passion for hockey while living abroad in Russia
The center's life experiences led him to commit to play Division I hockey at Army West Point. He says he's comfortable in the unknown and never shies away from a challenge.
ST. CLOUD, Minn — If you ask St. Cloud Norsemen captain Nik Hong where he's from, he might just say 'Minneapolis' out of ease.
In reality, the answer is much more complicated.
The 20-year-old Hong was born in London, England and has lived in multiple cities around the globe due to his father's job as a management consultant
The 6-foot forward doesn't remember much of London — the Hong family moved to Chicago when he was around two-years-old. Nik started to learn how to skate after following in his sister's footsteps to try figure skating.
"When I was two-and-a-half, the coaches told my mom that I didn't belong in figure skating," said Hong. "I was always running around, bumping into people, and skating as fast as I could. So they said to go and try hockey."
The family's time in Chicago came to an end about five years later, when Nik's father took a job in Moscow, Russia. Moving to Russia was a completely new experience for Nik, but — predictably — it was a great place to be a hockey player.
There was only one problem, Nik didn't speak any Russian. As the only non-Russian on his team, this made it extremely difficult to communicate with his teammates on the ice.
Around the age of nine, Nik made the choice to enroll in a Russian public school so that he could become fully immersed in the culture and the language.
"Not knowing anybody, not being able to even introduce myself was hard, but I made it through the year and was able to learn Russian fluently and became able to communicate with my teammates — and that's where my passion kind of began," he said.
Not many nine-year-olds would be so determined to enroll in a school based in a completely unfamiliar language and a brand new culture. This seems to be a pattern throughout Nik's life. He hasn't been one to shy away from a challenge or from a new experience.
If you missed the NAHL Top Prospect news, head over to https://t.co/UeLuMW3uZ7 and read all about Wurst, Kiffin & Hong heading out to Pittsburgh.— St. Cloud Norsemen (@StCloudNorsemen) January 24, 2023
Best of luck @4Wursty, @Kiffin15 & #NikHong pic.twitter.com/K5ENTF2yHb
The Hong family moved again when Nik was about 13, this time back to America. Specifically, Minneapolis.
Since Hong had become very passionate about hockey during his time overseas, he ended up enrolling at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault to continue to develop his skills and love for the game.
Things were completely new once again for Nik as he moved into the dorms at the school and was living away from his family. But, again, he didn't shy away from the challenge and loved his new lifestyle.
"Shattuck was unbelievable. If you want to develop your game there's no better spot — there's so much available ice time, available resources, the players are so good and the coaches are unbelievable," said Hong.
After playing four seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary's, it came time to start playing junior hockey. Hong originally had plans to play for a team in Canada, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic things ended up playing out a little differently.
Hong was drafted by the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League and decided to play there.
As a rookie, Hong earned the 'A' on his jersey as he showed his natural leadership ability. After his first season, the forward has now been the team's captain for the past two years.
"I want to embrace that challenge and that responsibility," said Hong on being a leader. "Leadership starts with what you do, not just what you do in front of other people, but what you do all the time, your character, and what you do when no one is watching."
St. Cloud Norsemen assistant coach Brock Kautz said that "he'll speak when he has to speak but he'll also be more quiet and just kind of lead by example and make sure he's playing the right way and doing the little things to help us win."
"He's always one of the first to introduce himself and talk about the way we play and answer any questions for anyone who's new," Kautz added. "He's really good at staying on schedule and doing everything he needs to do to play at a high level."
"You can't ask someone to do something that you're not willing to do yourself," Hong said.
His leadership skills were something that Division I schools started to notice. His points in the NAHL also started to add up over the years — he posted 17 points his first season, but exploded for almost a point per game the next year.
Hong originally committed to Dartmouth in April of 2022, but that fell through after he suffered an injury in the 2022-23 season. One school that had been vying for Hong during his original recruitment process was Army, which was still interested in him after he reopened his recruitment this past winter.
"Education was always a top priority," said Hong. "I had a previous connection with the West Point coaches and they sort of reached out and we started talking again. They just do such a great job there and make you feel so welcome."
#NAHL Commitment Alert: @StCloudNorsemen forward and @NAPHL grad Nik Hong has committed to play NCAA Division I @collegehockey for @ArmyWP_Hockey in @Atlantic_Hockey #MadeintheNA #LadderofDevelopment https://t.co/JOB61SQTET pic.twitter.com/1Jfrg5JExo— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) February 9, 2023
The 6-foot skater announced his commitment to the Black Knights in early February.
He had previously toured the campus and enjoyed what he saw there. It actually reminded him a little of Shattuck-St. Mary's. West Point is located on the Hudson River in New York, about 50 miles north of New York City.
The United States Military Academy is a prestigious program academically, only accepting around 10 percent of applicants into the program. Hong is thinking about studying business or economics.
Hong currently has six goals and 14 assists in 29 games this season despite missing games due to an injury.
The Norsemen struggled the first half of the season due to the injury bug, but have had a strong start to 2023, winning seven of their past eight games (the one loss was in a shootout). They currently sit in third place in the NAHL's Central Division, only one point behind the second-place Aberdeen Wings.
"He's typically really good on the faceoff dot. He just plays a complete game, is very reliable in the d-zone underneath the dots and has the ability to get up ice and make plays in the offensive zone," said Kautz.
The Black Knights will receive a player in Hong who describes himself as a well-rounded center who plays a 200-foot game and can win battles and faceoffs while playing smart.
A great setup from Kade Peterson offers Nik Hong the overtime winner for @StCloudNorsemen ! pic.twitter.com/RxERQZLVq2— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) February 11, 2023
"He's got a lot of skill, skates well, and is strong on his stick so he wins those 50/50 battles all over the ice," added Kautz. "He's very consistent and you know what you're going to get out of him."
Hong will finish out the season with the Norsemen before heading to Army West Point this upcoming fall.
In his free time, the Minnesota resident keeps up with his Russian and can still speak the language he learned when he was younger. He also has a passion for movies and TV shows, from directors like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, along with cooking and experimenting in the kitchen.