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Hometown hero: Stuart Skinner's influence on the next generation of fans

Andy Devlin / NHL / Getty Images

When Stuart Skinner got a full-time job with the Edmonton Oilers in 2022, the main problem for fans was the simple fact that his jersey was nowhere to be found.

"You couldn't purchase a Skinner jersey," said Avarey Amyotte, whose son Owen was then a budding minor hockey goalie and obsessed with the born-and-bred Edmontonian.

Amyotte's dad, Don - who she describes as the ultimate hockey grandpa - came up with a solution.

"He ordered a custom Skinner jersey for Owen for Christmas," she remembers. "It was a scramble to make sure that it would come in time before Christmas. My dad was so excited that he got it all done."

But Don wouldn't live to see the results of his labor of love. A week after the jersey arrived, on Dec. 2, 2022, he died from prostate cancer. Amyotte kept his present a secret from her son until Christmas morning.

"We had a lot of family in town on Christmas morning, and when Owen opened that box and it was a custom Skinner jersey, it was very emotional," she said.

Amyotte later tracked down Skinner at a goalie clinic to get it signed. The jersey now hangs above Owen's bed - a daily reminder of not just his love of the game, but his grandpa's love for him.

Eighteen years ago, a different Oilers goalie served as inspiration for a certain young fan. Dwayne Roloson was the netminder during Edmonton's last run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. A young Stuart Skinner was just 7 years old.

Dwayne Roloson inspired Stuart Skinner when he led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 Dave Sandford / Getty Images

"Roly the goalie was my idol," said Skinner, who remembers the sheer excitement any time he had the chance to watch the Oilers in person at the old Northlands Coliseum/Rexall Place.

"I will never forget Rexall Place," he said. "I absolutely love Rexall Place. It's one of those childhood kind of things that you look back on - being at the rink, watching teams, or just driving by and you're like, 'That's so cool.'"

Back then, Skinner always made sure the dial was tuned to sports talk radio where he could hear the latest Oilers news.

"We would always have the radio on whenever we hopped into the car," he said. "Whether it's going to school first thing in the morning, or going back home from school, or going to the rink."

The youngest child of nine, Skinner's earliest days in net were as target practice for his older siblings during road hockey games, which quickly morphed into an obsession for becoming a goalie.

"I could talk to you forever about why I wanted to be a goalie," he said. "I was just begging my family to be a goalie. I was always the one who wanted to go in the road hockey net."

But Skinner had a problem - his parents were less enthusiastic about him becoming a permanent fixture in net. Skinner's solution was simple.

"I didn't even give them a choice, really," he said. "One tryout, we just didn't have a goalie, so I told the coach I was going in. I didn't even ask permission. That was the end of it."

Connor McDavid and Stuart Skinner celebrate a win over Los Angeles in March 2024 Andy Devlin / NHL / Getty Images

Skinner quickly asserted himself as one of the game's up-and-coming talents, compiling a .929 save percentage in his second year of U15 AAA hockey and getting drafted into the WHL the following year. There, he quickly earned the starting goalie position in Lethbridge, Alberta as a 16-year-old.

"Not a lot of 16-year-olds in that league," he said. "I remember getting drafted and them saying that they wanted me to play right away.

"Especially as a kid going from bantam and getting drafted and all that, you're all excited. Then, when they say that, you're like, 'Holy crap, I'm going to be playing in the WHL. That's pretty cool.' It was very exciting for me. Them giving me that opportunity was massive, because then I was just able to play a lot of games right away."

Skinner also enrolled in the hockey academy at Louis St. Laurent junior and senior high.

"He was well poised and had a lot going for him, and was way more mature for his age," teacher and coach Jaret Peel said. "He was someone who was very determined to work hard and do all the things needed to make sure that he was successful, that would get him to the next level."

Peel would often take shots on Skinner and use the opportunity to inflict his own form of resilience training.

"I would try to chirp him and get into his head every time I scored a goal," he said.

Skinner, known for being humble and unaffected, ultimately got the last chirp in an uncharacteristic moment of hubris. When he signed his first NHL contract after being selected 78th overall by the Oilers in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Peel texted him congratulations. Skinner replied, "Hey coach. Just to let you know, I'll make more in three years than you'll make in your career."

Stuart Skinner meets then vice president of hockey operations for the Oilers, Craig MacTavish, after being selected 78th overall during the 2017 NHL Draft. MacTavish coached the Oilers throughout their 2006 Cup run Dave Sandford / Getty Images

Since then, Skinner has cemented himself as the Oilers' starting goalie and a mainstay in the next generation's hockey dreams.

"He's used his mental fortitude to push past the tough times and move forward," Peel said. "He's used past experiences, coaches, and sports psychologists to help him get to where he is right now. That's the goalie in the Stanley Cup Final. And that's every kid's dream."

Skinner might be living the dream, but he's also defining it. His sway over the next generation of Edmonton fans now extends far beyond the ice, at least among the teens Peel coaches.

"Having a mustache is cool now," he said. "There are hundreds of them. They've got the peach fuzz. They're saying, 'I'm going to have a mustache one day like Stuart's got.'"

Young hockey fans appreciate Stuart Skinner's signature style Codie McLachlan / Getty Images

One of those up-and-comers is 14-year-old Amyotte, who isn't sporting the Skinner 'stache but has already followed in Skinner's footsteps by playing AAA for the same minor hockey club, South Side Athletic Club. He's also attending the same in-school hockey academy as Skinner. Amyotte posted a .881 save percentage through 18 games last season in U15.

"I've noticed throughout his whole NHL career - and even just this season - Skinner improves really fast," Amyotte said. "He plays so calm. He can read the play. He can kind of just read plays into the future."

As proof of Skinner's evolution, Amyotte pointed to his Game 6 clinic against Dallas where he made 33 saves to keep the score at 2-1 and give the Oilers their Finals berth.

"He pulled out strong, and it was basically just a battle between the other goalie," he said.

It's that real-time learning Skinner will have to draw upon as the Oilers look to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole against Florida.

"We've been in a lot of worse situations," Skinner said after Wednesday's practice. "We've been in a situation where we were pretty well the last-place team in the league. We were down 3-2 against Vancouver, facing elimination, and we had to win two games. We've been in a lot of situations where you think that you're down and out. And I think that's when we play our best hockey, is when our backs are against the wall and the gun's pointing at us."

Skinner's self-talk might be different now, but he knows what he'd say to that 14-year-old version of himself back in junior high.

"I'd tell him to relax and know that it's all going to be OK. I would just tell him to really enjoy the whole process of getting up to where we are now. I would let him know that it's going to be hard. It's going to be tough. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, a lot of bumps and bruises. But at the end of the day, it's all going to be worth it, and just trust yourself leading up to where we're headed."

Jolene Latimer is a features writer at theScore.

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