Wed Oct 05 01:35pm EDT
Not with his family and not with his close friends, with whom the 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes star spent most of the offseason. But when you're the reigning NHL rookie of the year, your anonymity disappears.
"I go to the rinks now at home and people know who I am, where last summer they might not have," said Skinner on Tuesday, as the Hurricanes prepared to open their 2011-12 regular season at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
That notoriety transfers to the ice, too. Suddenly, pickup games back home became a hell of a lot more competitive with a Calder Trophy winner on the ice.
"Yeah, I try to stay awake so I don't get injured in any kind of stupid way during a pickup game," said Skinner.
"But after the game, I come off the ice and sign autographs. Which is a little weird for me."
Such is life for Skinner, who played his way onto the Hurricanes roster last season rather than being returned to junior; finishing his 82-game campaign with 31 goals and 32 assists, which were good enough to earn him the Calder.
Slated to skate with Eric Staal(notes) and Tuomo Ruutu(notes) to start the season, Skinner shared some thoughts this week about his rookie season; the pressures for an encore; the bitter end of the Hurricanes' playoff push; his first NHL fight in the preseason; the Brendan Shanahan(notes) videos; and an interesting revelation about his video game history.
But first, we addressed the 'Hockey Bieber' issue.
Q. We were down in Raleigh last year and saw first-hand the phenomenon of 'Skinnermania'. Can you still walk into any establishment and find dozens of screaming girls?
SKINNER: [Laughs] I don't experience that too much. It was pretty much around the All-Star Game when it happened. It's actually pretty relaxed living down here. I've got people who recognize me at the grocery store or at a restaurant. But I think overall I go unnoticed.
In seeing some interviews you've done, I'm getting the sense you're a little tired of the word "Bieber" being associated with you.
Oh [laughs] … Yeah, I don't know how that started. And I don't know if there's anything I can do about it. I think I just try to roll with it, I guess.
Where do you keep your mini-Calder Trophy?
My parents are in charge of that. It's in good hands. I don't know … it's probably in my room somewhere.
Looking back on it, were you chasing the trophy towards the end of the season or was it more, "Hey, if I win it, I win it"?
It was easy for me to forget about [the Calder] because every game was big for us down the stretch. Unfortunately, we missed out by one game, but it's an exciting time of year when you're chasing a playoff spot. So it was easy for me to put in the back of my mind. Everything was geared towards us making the playoffs.
What was it like to experience that last game of the 2011 season, and the loss to Tampa Bay in the last game of the season. Did it linger on your mind over the summer?
As hockey players, you have 82 games. You try and sort of condition yourself to forget about things because the next game is right around the corner.
But when you go into the offseason, it's pretty tough. It's tough to look back on the season. You think about that last game, how much it meant to us, and we came up short. At the end of the day, going into the summer and coming into this season, we should be able to use it as motivation.
How much did your summer training change year to year?
Not that much. I was pretty comfortable playing at 195 pounds, and I'm sort of the same right now.
Getting faster was the focus this summer. Keep my strength and keep my weight up but at the same time become more explosive.
We all sort of follow the same guidelines. I'm not really on the extreme diet. I probably shouldn't say that because he wants me to be.
You try to eat healthy. You see so many guys around the League eating healthy and being conscious about what they eat and making the right choices. These are the small things that make a difference now.
It's not been the greatest preseason for you, with some struggles offensively and Paul Maurice shuffling some lines. Is this a product of all of a sudden having some expectations to meet rather than entering camp as a true rookie?
I don't think so. I think it's just more a product of it being preseason. Not to say that we're not trying out there, that we're not trying to score. But I think the timing and, like you said, juggling the lines and trying to find chemistry [can throw you off]. Sometimes you're trying to make the cute play. If it was in the season, you're going to put the puck on net and simplify your game.
The pace in the preseason is pretty fast, with guys trying to make teams and players fresh off the summer. But it certainly picks up during the season. You have to get some ugly goals, just throw the puck on net and see what happens.
I think so. It's obviously a great player and it's good to compete against guys. It pushes the team to get better. He's a good guy, I get along with him off the ice. I actually roomed with him my first training camp. It's nice to see him stepping up and playing like that.
Do you see him as the Mila Kunis to your Natalie Portman in this hockey "Black Swan"?
[Laughs] I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment.
We just sort of got tangled up in front of the net. I don't know how it happened; I guess it was just in the heat of the moment. It wasn't one of those things we were both looking for. Neither one of us was really overly mad.
It ended pretty quick, which I guess was good for me. It wasn't much of a fight. More of a wrestling match I guess.
We heard what your coach's reaction was to the fight; how did the bench react?
They thought it was pretty funny. I don't know if I did a better job making them laugh or pumping them up.
Speaking of funny: I saw the video you did with Cabbie at the Biosteel Camp this summer. That double-entendre filled "Off Ice Evaluation" bit where he's asking you about size and endurance …
… Care to change any of your grades?
[Laughs] Yeah, that was a pretty serious interview. I don't know, I guess I'll say the same grades. It wasn't the best scores on my end, but I hope it made a couple of people laugh.
Back to the NHL: What are your thoughts on the Brendan Shanahan videos? Are they enough to get a player's attention?
I think they're pretty cool. It's cool to get the explanation, because a lot of people before would wonder how a suspension happens. Now, you click on a link and you can see a description of how everything went down.
They definitely got it right when they talked about this being for the technology age, with everyone on their phones or on their iPads. It's a great medium for them to use and take advantage of. So far they've done a great job.
Quick ones: What's the movie or TV show you most watch on the road?
I just started watching "The Office." The full seasons, going back to the beginning.
What's on your iPod?
A little bit of everything. The most would be country, but there's a pretty good mix of everything.
Your favorite piece of hockey memorabilia?
A Maple Leafs jersey from when I was a kid. I think mine was blank.
Finally, do you use yourself when you play NHL 12, and why or why not?
I don't play that often; but when I have, I do play myself because I think it's cool.
Growing up with NHL 2006 or 2007, you could make your own player and place him on an NHL team. And you could make yourself, and make yourself really good. But now I can play as myself on the team I play for, and that's really cool.
So even before there was a Jeff Skinner in the EA Sports game, you were creating Jeff Skinner in the game? How does Created Jeff Skinner compare with NHL 12 Jeff Skinner?
He's way better. Like, 99 in everything.