Watching from school as the United States captured the gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships last winter was a bittersweet moment for Brady Skjei. Among the final cuts just weeks before by Team USA, the Minnesota-born defenseman was happy for his good friends on the team, like Rangers forward J.T. Miller, and proud of his country, but he was also wistful at not being in Russia and taking part in the tournament.
But all of that has just made Skjei more determined to make sure he is a part of the U.S. squad that will take part in the 2014 World Juniors.
"Ever since I was cut last December I have had the mindset that I would do whatever it takes to make the team this year," the Rangers top pick in the 2012 draft explained on Monday. "I was happy for them last year, but it was tough sitting at home watching that gold medal game, for sure. I respected their decision not to include me, but I will do whatever it takes to make it this year."
Phase One of Skjei's plan to make Team USA in December was to stand out in the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY---a camp which just concluded on Saturday. A more confident and experienced Skjei displayed his usual strong play in his own end, while being more involved offensively, as well, throughout the week.
Skjei played very well over the course of the week---one that featured practices, intersquad scrimmages, and exhibition games against Finland, Sweden, and Canada (of which Skjei appeared in two of the three games without recording a point).
"I think it went very well, the coaching staff seemed really happy with my play," said Skjei, who will be entering his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota in a couple of weeks. "I thought I improved my two-way play while still being a shutdown guy in the D zone. And compared to last year I was just more confident. I knew what was expected of me, there were no suprises. And it went really well."
Skjei will concentrate on improving his all-around game while simultaneously helping the Gophers and auditioning for Team USA this fall. He also will be keeping in touch with his good friend Boo Nieves, the University of Michigan center and Rangers second round pick in the 2012 draft, who also took part in Team USA's camp in Lake Placeid last week.
Nieves was not invited to the pre-season camp last summer, but this year he was invited and made a solid impression, despite being held without a point in three games.
"Boo had a really good camp, played really well, and I think he has a really good shot at making the team," shared Skjei. "The speed of Boo is what stands out, but there were times he just made some really big-time plays in one end, then came back and was blocking shots in our end. Everybody loved that, especially on the bench."
How often does Brady picture he and his buddy Boo putting the Blueshirts jersey on and going to work together in the future as members of the New York Rangers?
"It's hard not to think about it for sure because it's definitely my goal to make the Rangers and play in New York some day," explained Skjei. "Of course my focus this year is to have a good year in Minnesota, but I definitely picture myself one day playing there. And Boo and I are good friends, and now have even more of a bond after the (2012) draft, so it'd be great to be there together, for sure."