This past Friday I took the long trip across the windswept fields of Wisconsin to the impressive confines of the Resch Center in Green Bay to take in a USHL matchup between Team USA U-18’s and the Green Bay Gamblers. A game showcasing some of the top defensive prospects in the game, including Minnesota product Brady Skjei.
Two years ago, Skjei made the tough decision to leave high school for Team USA, leaving friends, family, and teammates for Ann Arbor. He’s enjoyed the international travel and tournaments, along with the pride of wearing a USA sweater. Making the State Tournament in 2010 with Lakeville North is still his favorite hockey memory, saying “there’s nothing like it”. Skjei still keeps in touch with former teammates, Charlie Lindgren (Sioux Falls Stampede), Nate Arentz (Fargo Force) and Blake Winiecki (Lakeville North) via text and Skype.
Skjei was an offensive defenseman while at Lakeville North, scoring 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 30 games during the 2009-2010 season. He admits with a subtle smile that he didn’t play much defense, a part of his game he realized needed work. With the United States Developmental Program Skjei’s developed into a solid two way defenseman. He looked up to Nick Leddy as a high school player and models his game after both Leddy and Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks. He’d be happy to be compared to both in the future.
A sequence in the Green Bay game showed the strength of his skating. Skjei demonstrated his offensive potential with a strong rush up the ice, carrying the puck into the Green Bay zone. Unfortunately, a good defensive play gave the Gamblers an odd man rush the other way. Skjei used his exceptional acceleration and tremendous skating to recover and get back into the play. Skjei credits his skating to getting started on the ice at an early age and working with his uncle, Barry Karn, who just so happens to be an NHL skating guru. After getting back in the play, Skjei used his size, strength and grit. He took care of business in the front of the net, preventing a surefire goal by the Gamblers.
In a post game interview Skjei was articulate, intelligent, and engaging. Displaying a maturity about being the top ranked Minnesotan and 18th ranked North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting. He enjoys being ranked so highly but realizes that there is still a lot of hockey left to be played. He could move up or he could move down. By continuing to work on his game he hopes to move up.
Skjei made a tough decision two years ago to leave Lakeville North and home for Team USA. A bit reflective he states,
“I wanted to get better and I felt this was the place to go. For me and my game, to keep getting better everyday and see where it takes me.”
It has already taken him around the world, playing for his country. That decision will also take him to Pittsburgh in June for the 2012 NHL Draft, surrounded by family and friends. The tough part will be waiting to see where and when, but not if he’ll get drafted, because he is impressive both on and off the ice.
(MNHockeyPropsects.com would like to thank both the Green Bay Gamblers and Team USA for the opportunity and access for this story and photos.)