Skilleful: Hometown Hero Leads Badgers to Frozen Four
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Jack Skille, a freshman for Wisconsin, and a Madison, Wis., native, will perhaps always be the answer to the trivia question, "Who scored the game-winner to end the longest scoreless game in NCAA hockey history?"
Last Sunday, in Green Bay's Resch Center, in the Midwest Regional Final, Skille managed to fire the puck over Cornell goaltender Dave McKee's left shoulder to give Wisconsin the 1-0 win in triple overtime, sending the Badgers to the Frozen Four.
The shot on goal was Wisconsin's 60th of the night.
"It was 4-on-4 at that moment," recalled Skille, "and I went out there on a line change. I went down to the slot and saw that their goalie wrapped the puck around the boards and that our defenseman pinched. I screamed for the puck, and [Josh] Engel, I don't know, I guess he heard me."
Said Badgers coach Mike Eaves, "Mr. McKee was so good down low that we were trying to emphasize to just get that thing up in the upper part of the net because he was doing such a great job on the low stuff. Goalies can get in that zone. Can it play with the forwards' minds? Yes. You just have to remind them what they need to do."
Skille was arguably the most energetic player on the ice during the overtime periods — an astounding feat considering Wisconsin and Cornell practically played two full games back-to-back.
"It was amazing how they still had energy in there," said Badgers coach Mike Eaves. "They were very focused. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that they were in their own state, and they wanted to make sure that they didn't walk out of that building on the down side of things."
And they didn't, thanks to Skille's goal in the game's 112th minute of play. The freshman's game winner came as no surprise to at least one Wisconsin coach.
Said Eaves, laughing, "In between overtime periods, we were all kind of picking a lottery and picking a guy who was going to score, and [assistant coach Mark] Osiecki picked Jack, so as soon as the thing went in, he was all over that."
But trying to pick the game winner wasn't the only amusing intermission activity for the Badgers.
"We talked about some memorable NHL goals scored in overtime," said Eaves. "In partiular, we talked about Pat LaFontaine's goal in the [fourth] overtime when the Islanders were playing Washington [in 1987]. So we talked about stuff like that, to sort of indirectly talk about what they needed to do to get it done."
Thanks to the goal, Badger nation heads all the way to Milwaukee, where Skille and his teammates will skate on Thursday in the national semifinal against Maine.
"Even right now, everyone's coming up to all of us and congratulating us," said Skille. "Everybody knows, and I think it's just so cool, the fact that so many people know about us, and so many people are Badger fans around this area. Just great people in Madison, and I'm really happy that I made this decision [to come to Wisconsin]."
Could Skille come up big again? If necessary, he'll certainly have the stamina.
"One of Jack's strengths is his ability to skate," said Eaves. "He's a horse, and it just seems that he has that ability to go for long periods of time. And he plays with great enthusiasm."
It's worth mentioning that, while Skille is headed to the Frozen Four, another native of Madison, Minnesota's Phil Kessel — likely a top three pick in this summer's NHL draft — is not. In the weeks leading to Kessel choosing Minnesota over Wisconsin last summer, rumors flew regarding a behind-the-scenes rivalry between the two young stars.
Since then, Kessel has dismissed the rumors, and Skille was quick to do the same, citing their contrasting styles of play on the ice.
Said Skille, "No, we're totally different players. Phil's a goal scorer. I'm a power forward. I'll score goals here and there. I don't compare myself to him at all, and I would hope he doesn't either."
One similarity between the two, however, is the promise of a professional career. Skille was selected seventh overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2005 NHL draft.
But for now, the only thing on his mind is the Frozen Four and a chance to win a national championship in his home state.
"I just can't wait. It's going to be the coolest feeling."