Brady Skjei, the Rangers first round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, is most definitely more than a casual observer of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Skjei, a Minnesota native and currently a sophomore defenseman at the University of Minnesota, grew up as a hockey player in the United States Developmental Program, and earlier this year represented the United States in the 2014 World Junior Championships. So he takes great pride in watching those players--including the Blueshirts' own Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, and Derek Stepan--wear the red, white, and blue during the Winter Games.
Recently Brady Skjei sat down for a Q&A session with Jim Cerny from BlueshirtsUnited.com
Q: What did it mean to you to represent the United States at the 2014 World Junior Championships?
BS: It was a really good time, and it was awesome to put on the USA jersey and represent my country. It didn't end the way we wanted it to (Team USA did not medal), but it was an amazing experience to play with that high caliber level of players for a couple of weeks and to represent the U.S. Overall it was an amazing experience, a lot of fun, but the losing part was no fun at all.
Q: It is often said that you can learn as much by losing as you do by winning. Would that be a fair assessment from your WJC experience?
BS: Well you definitely don't want to be on that side of the game, the losing side. You get those moments in your career every once in a while and you know that you never want to be in that position again. It was definitely a lesson learned. Whenever you play, you have to play to win, because losing is no fun at all.
Q: You were the final cut from Team USA prior to the 2013 World Junior Championships and that team went on to win the gold medal. How did that make you feel, and how did that motivate you to make the 2014 squad?
BS: Being cut the year before, that was pretty tough and watching them win was probably even tougher. Right after that happened it became my goal to make sure I earned a spot on that team (in 2014). I worked really hard in the off-season and I worked really hard at the start of the season (at Minnesota) to give myself a chance, and I got my way on the roster. I think I made the most of it, played pretty solid in the tournament. But, definitely, I was motivated to make that team.
Q: You were handed a lot of responsibility as a defensive defenseman for Team USA. How did you like having that level of responsibility?
BS: They weren't expecting me to be a power play guy, they had other guys to do that. My role was to be a shutdown player and I thought I did that really well--thought I played really good defensively. It was fun to have that responsibility.
Q: You got to play against (Rangers 2013 draft pick) Pavel Buchnevich when Russia beat Team USA at the WJC. What did you think of him?
BS: I knew him from the development camp from over the summer and he's a really good player. He's got a ton of skill and you really have to watch out for him on the ice brecause he can make you pay, for sure--which he did to us in that game.
Q: What's the biggest difference in your game this year as a sophomore as opposed to your freshman season?
BS: I think the biggest thing, definitely, is confidence. Last year I had some freshman struggles, and not to say I wasn't confident, but this year I am more confident and my coach is more confident in me, too. I am playing a bunch of minutes, playing against top lines. They're giving me a little more of a leash which is nice. Really, playing with more confidence comes from the coach believing in you and putting you out there in big situations. There's nothing more fun than being put in those situations and then you succeed in them, that really helps your confidence a lot. This whole year, and the World Juniors, has helped me a lot in that area.