When they’re at the ice rink, Craig and Justin Bioni have a typical athlete-instructor bond, but that changes when the game ends.
“We live five minutes from the (Airport Ice Arena) and when your dad is the coach, it’s a long ride home,” Craig jokingly said.
Justin Bioni, of the Moon Area High School varsity hockey program, is one of five high school hockey players in the PIHL Class AA division to be coached by his father, Craig. The two are making the most of the experience.
“It’s great (playing for my dad). I love it,” said Justin, a defenseman for the Tigers.
“Playing for other coaches is pretty good, but my dad will push me to do what I need to do in order to get better, and he’s always on me, but I like it.”
Craig, who is also in charge of the Robert Morris University ACHA DIII club hockey team, began coaching his two sons at the squirt level with the Pittsburgh Aviators amateur club. When he took over the head coaching position at Moon Area, his kids soon followed.
“(Justin) got into playing himself. He wanted to do it. But when he asks for help, I give it to him and set clear expectations for him,” said Craig. “I push him as hard as he’ll let me. I push him for the grades so that he can play in college if he wants to.”
Josh, the eldest Bioni child, was a forward for the Tigers. During his senior season, his father guided the club to a 10-10-1 record, which garnered a second-place finish in Section 1.
After graduation, Josh decided to pursue club hockey at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Justin was promoted to the varsity team.
While Craig said he hopes he is reunited with his younger son at the collegiate level, he said that Justin ultimately has the option to attend college wherever he desires.
“It would be nice (to coach him at RMU), but I’d love for him to go anywhere he wanted to and I would support him,” he said.
Justin, who wears No. 12, said his dad has had a major influence in his life, both on and off the ice.
“He always wants to see me grow, get better, and work a lot harder. If he wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t be as good as I am now,” said Justin, who has tallied 12 points in 16 games this season.
Bioni said the memories made from coaching his sons will last a lifetime.
“I was a coach before I was a dad actually, so being able to coach both of my boys has been a good experience. I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity,” he added. “There’s definitely a great bond between us.”
Nick Buzzelli is a student at Robert Morris University.