MEET­ING GOALS

Oil­ers prospect on a roll

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI rty­chkowski@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Rob_Ty­chkowski

It’s hard to im­prove on a month that in­cluded a 31-save shutout to clinch a West­ern Hockey League cham­pi­onship and sign­ing a con­tract with the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers, but Stu­art Skin­ner has a chance to do just that.

Win­ning a Memo­rial Cup would top ev­ery­thing and the Ed­mon­ton­born goalie has his Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos on the thresh­old of ju­nior hockey’s ul­ti­mate prize.

“It’s been the best few of days of my life and I’m su­per ex­cited to keep that go­ing,” said the 19-yearold, who was blind­sided by his first pro con­tract. “It was an ex­cit­ing sur­prise, an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment for me and my fam­ily. I didn’t re­ally see it com­ing, but I got a call and a cou­ple of days later I signed. And I won a cham­pi­onship. It was a pretty crazy and ex­cit­ing few days. I just en­joyed it all.”

And it’s not over. The Bron­cos are one of four teams com­pet­ing at the Memo­rial Cup, which be­gins Fri­day in Regina.

It’s been a long, gru­elling, drama-filled trip to get there — the Bron­cos played a league record 26 games (seven, seven, six and six) in the four se­ries — but it’s to­tally worth it and the tour­na­ment hasn’t even started yet.

“It took us a lot, we didn’t have any­thing easy,” said Skin­ner. “The first round was Regina, who bat­tles ev­ery night, is su­per hard to play against and has a re­ally strong team.

“Then it was the best team in the WHL and sec­ond-best team in the CHL rank­ings (the Moose Jaw War­riors) and we were able to beat them in seven games as well.”

Next up was Leth­bridge, the team Skin­ner spent 31/2 years with be­fore be­ing moved to Swift Cur­rent at the trade dead­line.

“It was tough, a lot of emo­tions,” he said. “It’s not easy when the Leth­bridge fans are boo­ing you and you’re get­ting chirped by your old friends.

“But it’s all part of the game. I’m just happy that I wasn’t do­ing it alone and had sup­port from the two other guys (Gior­gio Estephan and Tan­ner Nagel) who came with me in the trade. It was tough but we got the job done and that’s all that mat­ters.”

In the WHL fi­nal, a 2-3-2 for­mat, they lost the first game at home to Everett, putting them­selves in an im­me­di­ate, and deep, hole.

“We knew we couldn’t lose the sec­ond game at home, and that we had to win two of three in Everett,” said Skin­ner. “It was a re­ally hard bat­tle, a re­ally good se­ries. Ev­ery sin­gle game was close, a one-goal game.

“It was tough to get here but that makes it all the more spe­cial. All the blood, sweat and tears were worth it.” They won’t have to go very far for the Memo­rial Cup, just down the road to Regina, but they’ve been wait­ing their en­tire hockey lives to get there.

“It’s go­ing to be a lot of fun,” said Skin­ner. “Ob­vi­ously, it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult, not ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be per­fect and go our way, but our team has been through a lot of ad­ver­sity this whole year, through the whole play­offs, and we’ve just come out stronger at the other end. We’re ex­cited to get our chance.

“With all the char­ac­ter we have in that dress­ing room and ev­ery­thing we’ve been through, we know how to deal with any­thing that comes at us. It’s been a very spe­cial group we have.”

He’s been a big part of that group, post­ing six shutouts in the play­offs, along with a 2.20 GAA and .932 save per­cent­age. His per­for­mance on the big stage has to be

It was tough to get here but that makes it all the more spe­cial. All the blood, sweat and tears were worth it.

mak­ing the Oil­ers ex­cited. They haven’t had much luck de­vel­op­ing goalies, but their third-round pick (78th over­all) from 2017 is look­ing solid so far.

But while play­ing in the new arena with Con­nor McDavid might be in his future one day, it’s not in his thoughts right now. He has more im­por­tant games to fo­cus on.

“I don’t need to be think­ing about that right now,” he said with a laugh. “It’s in the back of your mind that you signed your first con­tract and you have the op­por­tu­nity to be play­ing pro some day, it’s some­thing you dreamed about.

“But right now I’m only dream­ing about win­ning this bat­tle with my team. It’s sad, but I only have a cou­ple more weeks with the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos. It’s tough to hear. I’m ex­cited to fin­ish the post-sea­son off with this fam­ily.”

Where will he play next year? The Oil­ers gave him no in­di­ca­tion of where they’d like that to be.

“I have ab­so­lutely no idea,” he said. “I’m kind of be­ing left alone to fo­cus on what I have in front of me here.”

ROBERT MUR­RAY/WHL

Swift Cur­rent goalie Stu­art Skin­ner hoists the Ed Chynoweth Cup fol­low­ing his team’s 3-0 win over the Everett Sil­ver­tips in Game 6 of the WHL fi­nal on Sun­day. With the win, the Bron­cos will play in the Memo­rial Cup, ju­nior hockey’s ul­ti­mate prize,...

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