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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

1000 NHL game player Jeff Skinner recalls Friday Night's at "The Aud"

Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images


Jeff Skinner will play in his 1000th National Hockey League game tonight with the Buffalo Sabres, which should be a special night at KeyBank Center. However, the former 50-goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League holds memories of Kitchener's Memorial Auditorium (The Aud) in high regard, despite having been gone since 2010.

 

The soon to be 32-year-old has enjoyed individual success at the NHL level over his almost 14-year pro career with 357 goals and 669 points split between his eight-year stint with Carolina Hurricanes and now in his sixth season with the Buffalo Sabres.

 

With all his individual success, including breaking into NHL as an 18-year-old, scoring 31 goals and winning the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year, Skinner credits much of that quick success in the early part of his pro career to the development he had with the Kitchener Rangers organization and with the demands of the OHL, from the players to the yearly calendar.


“Once you get to the OHL it’s a pro-style schedule, you’re around guys who are drafted or guys who have contracts, and or looking for contracts with a bunch of 19 and 20-year-olds,” said Skinner.



Getting engraved in the winning culture

Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images


Skinner spoke about starting in Kitchener during a transition phase, as the team had just come off an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup run the year prior to him getting there, which helped him learn from some players who carried over from that team to show him the ropes on how to prepare on a daily basis as an OHL player.

 

“For me when I got to Kitchener, you flip the switch and then you start taking a lot more serious and realizing what it takes to play at the next level,” said Skinner who dominated with the Toronto Nationals the year prior before being selected to the Rangers in the OHL Priority Selection draft with the final pick in the first round. “It was a great learning curve and I had a lot of support there.”

 

“I remember when Kitchener hosted the Memorial Cup the year before I got there, we still had a few guys who had been on that team who went on that long run and I learned a lot from some older guys right away which was huge for me.”

 

Skinner added that he was able to earn a bigger opportunity as the season went on as the team was forced to move some of those carryover veteran players to recoup raft capital as the normal turnover cycle in junior hockey for teams who go all-in the year prior.

 

“We made some trades at the deadline and I got to play a lot more in the second half of the season and getting that opportunity was huge,” said Skinner. “We had a young team after that and were able to grow together over the last stretch of my first season and take it into the next season, which was fun for me.”



Memories of "The Aud"

Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images


Although Skinner was not old enough to play in the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, special to many people in his current hockey city, the Markham, Ontario native remembers the atmosphere of the Kitchener’s version of “The Aud” being memories that he still cherishes to this day.

 

“There’s a lot, but Friday night at The Aud were the theme for me those two years for me in junior hockey,” Skinner said with his trademark smile which has become so infectious to those around the hockey community over the years.

 

“I think for me there was such a great history there and so many great players that have come through that organization, you see them all over the rink and to have such a great tradition,” said Skinner. “While I played, we had a couple of those good series including a good one against London and then one against Windsor. Unfortunately, we lost the ladder series but that rich history is what made it cool to be a part of. I am grateful to spend time there as a Kitchener Ranger.”

 

Skinner improved leaps and bounds from his first year in the OHL by going from 27 goals and 51 points in his rookie season to 50 goals and 90 points as an assistant captain in his sophomore NHL Draft season, which helped catapult him to being selected seventh overall in the first round by Carolina in June of 2010.

 

Skinner added 33 points in 20 playoff games during the 2009-10 season with Kitchener, falling in the conference final that season. Skinner’s last taste of playoff hockey as he is still searching and itching to play in the postseason once again, not having done so during his tenure in Carolina and yet with Buffalo.



Being NHL Ready

Photo Credit: Shelley Bell/CHL Images


When Skinner broke into the NHL during the 2010-11 season he took the league by storm, which he credits being given great guidance from people along the way including a few well-known names within the OHL community.

 

“There’s a lot of people to thank before I even got to the OHL,” said Skinner. “I played for Bill Bowler, who is now the General Manager of the Windsor Spitfires, so I had a little of an inside scoop going into it. It’s just the people involved in the league, that’s what affected me the most. Obviously, the pro style schedule helps and playing that many games, practicing every day is a big adjustment for the guys playing minor hockey before.”

 

Skinner went on to thank Steve Spott, his coach during his two seasons in Kitchener, who has now been an Assistant Coach in the NHL since 2014; now reunited in Dallas with another former Kitchener coach in Pete DeBoer.

 

“I played for Steve Spott who’s now been coaching in the NHL for the past few decades, so you look at that and it’s pretty big,” said Skinner. “Pete DeBoer was there the year before too who obviously has a high coaching pedigree at the OHL and NHL levels.”

 

“You look at the high quality of hockey people in the organizations around that league and fortunately for me that was Kitchener,” Skinner concluded. “You get to learn from so many people, you get to learn from guys who are older, those who are already drafted and that’s what sticks out to me most was getting to learn from a bunch of quality people in that respect. You learn and grow yourself as a result of the great mentorship.”

 

Buffalo’s head coach Don Granato mentioned that it was no surprise to him from afar that Skinner was able to transition so well to the prop game thanks to his scoring ability and gifted skating talents.

 

“All of that but definitely his scoring knack, elite edge work, and agility within his speed game,” said Granato. “He did score right away as an 18-year-old in the league, it has made an impact but an impression that has lasted a long time. If you can come in this league and do what he did and then repeat it consistently that gives you lots of creditability that you’re a dangerous scorer.”

 

Reflecting on Skinner playing in his 1000th game, Buffalo’s bench boss believes that the sniper still has a lot to give, only being 31-years-old with some solid prime years left to go as an NHL pro, given that he is signed for three more seasons at a cap hit of $9,000,000.

 

“He hasn’t aged out in that category, he’s still in a window of his prime years physically and at any moment they can win you games and convert," Granato concluded. "Jeff has maintained that throughout his career.”


Skinner currently sits with 24 goals and 45 points through 67 games this season as he enters a milestone night for his 1000th game ceremony in front of many friends and family who helped support him throughout his hockey career, everywhere from Kitchener to Buffalo and all the stops in between for the left winger.

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