Junior defenseman and Vancouver Canucks prospect Brett Skinner enjoyed a stellar season at the University of Denver, helping the Pioneers to win their second consecutive national championship.
Skinner amassed 40 points (4 goals, 36 assists) playing in all 43 Denver games this season. His 36 assists led the nation among defensemen in that category.
The Brandon, Manitoba native’s outstanding season didn’t go unnoticed as he racked up several awards that included a spot on the WCHA All-Conference First Team and the CCM All-American Second West Team.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Skinner after Denver’s National Championship on Saturday night as well as after Wednesday’s practice at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
HF: How is it the second time around?
BS: It’s the exact same feeling just better. To come back after everything last year, the bar was raised a little higher this year. It’s just unbelievable, the team and everything. To do it again is just an unbelievable experience.
HF: There were some out there who weren’t giving you guys a chance this year. Do you feel some sort of retribution has been paid to those people?
BS: I think many people felt that after the season we had last year, that we came to together at the right time, and that maybe it couldn’t happen again. That might have been true, but we knew that with the experience of last year, the returning players we had and the exceptional freshman class that we had coming in that we were going to have a good team this season. The leadership that we had (last season) that has carried things over to this year worked in our favor. We focused on being consistent and it turned out that we ended up being a better team this year than the team that won the national championship last year. We won the WCHA regular season, the WCHA Final Five and successfully defended the championship this season. We don’t really worry about what people are saying about us because we always knew that we had a good team and we believed in ourselves. People will say what they want to say but we knew what we could do.
HF: Tell me about how you guys felt about the great play of Peter Mannino tonight?
BS: He’s unbelievable. That kid just came up huge for us tonight. He made the huge saves at the right time. The whole season that he’s had has been just unbelievable. I can’t say enough good things about him. He and Glenn Fisher both set us up to be in this position. In the past two games, Mannino pulled us through. But both of those guys have been just exceptional all year.
HF: Tonight it seemed like you guys were very focused and looked patient and relaxed out there. You capitalized on your opportunities but didn’t get too high or too low.
BS: Oh yeah. With the success that we’ve had this season, we’ve learned how to be in a lot of different types of situations. That just happened to have paid off in tonight’s game. That’s definitely one of the strengths of this team. We’ve done what we have just because of the type of game that we play is methodical, chip it out and chip it in and try and generate a forecheck. I think that’s been the main reason for our success.
HF: North Dakota came out hitting tonight, but by the time the third period came around, it seemed like you guys were taking it to them.
BS: They came out with a lot of energy like we knew they would. We just stayed with our game and things worked out in the end. We’ve got some pretty fast forwards that were keeping up with them, that were hitting and banging them every shift. That wears you down. Our forwards did an exceptional job of doing that tonight. The tempo of the game that we played tonight, North Dakota had a tough time with it for 60 minutes. It’s been difficult for teams to keep up with our tempo all year long.
HF: Obviously you guys are going to lose some quality seniors to graduation this year. Can you reflect on how much those guys have meant to the team both as teammates and individuals?
BS: Definitely, the leadership group of our seniors is unbelievable. They’re the greatest senior class in DU history. All you have to do is just look at the amount of wins that they have and the depth that they bring to the team. They all play important roles and make timely plays and they’ll definitely be missed. Obviously those guys like to step up on the ice as far as leadership goes but they’re just a great group of guys and they’re even better off the ice.
HF: What has been the key to the success of the Denver Pioneers this season in your personal opinion?
BS: I think depth is definitely one of the major keys. From top to bottom we’ve got a lot of guys that can score a lot. We don’t key in on one line with our team. We have three solid lines that can score and our fourth line definitely chips in, especially playing in a checking role. Our defense, one through six, we have guys that are contributing. So I definitely think that it’s depth on our team.
HF: What do you think is the main difference between last year’s team and this year’s team?
BS: I think consistency is probably one of the major differences between this year’s team and last year’s team. This year we’ve managed to stay focused more, especially at the midway part of the year. We’ve been able to bear down a little more in the few games that were the difference in the regular season. Coming into the playoffs now and the (Frozen Four) tournament, I think there are some similarities in both teams. For example, the way we clamp down defensively and stuff like that. But as far as regular season goes, I think it’s definitely consistency and our focus are the major differences.
HF: A lot has been written about your team’s offense since you guys are one of the top scoring teams in the nation. But do you feel that your team’s defense is underrated?
BS: I think any time you have a very offensive team it’s kind of like a stereotype. People think that because you’re very offensive means that you’re bad defensively (laughs). We definitely couldn’t be where we are now if we weren’t a solid defensive team. We’ve won some really close games coming down the stretch, games that have been like 1-0 versus Michigan Tech and then in the WCHA finals versus CC. It’s those type of games that you have to win if you want to win championships. I think that in the second half of the season, we really established ourselves as a team that was prepared to do that. We definitely have the ability to score three or four goals in a game but we can also win the 1-0 games.
HF: You’ve played all season on the power play with Matt Carle and you guys seem to click really well together. Tell me about that.
BS: Obviously Matt is a great player. We played much of the second half of the season together last year and we’ve play together (on the power play) all year. Once you play with a quality player like Matt for a while it definitely helps out your game. I think the skill level that we have on our power play has definitely contributed to a lot of chemistry between us.
HF: Tell me what was it like being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks.
BS: It was great, especially since I played in Trail (BCHL) before I came here to Denver, so that was really special. They’re a great organization and I’m glad that they drafted me. Someday I hope to play for them.
HF: Have you been in touch with the Canucks this season?
BS: No, not really. I’m sure that they watch some of my games but they’ve basically left me alone and just let me play here at Denver.
HF: You have one year left before you leave Denver. With the current NHL situation the way it is and has been going, do you ever think about how it could impact you as far as your future pro career and have you thought about the possibility of leaving Denver early to turn pro?
BS: Not really, it’s not even in the back of mind right now. It’s been so good here at Denver that I just don’t really think about it. I just let myself play and know that I still have another year left here and know that I’ve got somewhere to play next year. So that’s obviously a little bit of weight off my mind. It (the NHL lockout) has affected me more as a fan because I can’t get out to any Avs games or see them on TV so that’s the biggest way that it has affected me.
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