That Stuart Skinner would one day skate was a given. After all, when your three older brothers and your five older sisters, not to mention both your parents, either play hockey or figure skate – or both – it was never a matter of if, only when.
“It just seemed we were always on the ice,” says Stuart’s dad, Sam. “Even when it wasn’t a formal figure skating or hockey practice and it was winter, we were on a pond or outdoor rink somewhere.”
Stuart’s first year of Novice saw him follow brothers Stephen, Scott and Sheldon’s footsteps to the hockey rink. With his brothers being between five and 19 years older, there was plenty of old equipment ready to be worn.
“We have enough for most of Edmonton here,” says Sam. “We could outfit people for hockey and figure skating for quite a while.”
By his second year of Novice, though, Stuart started to pave his own path.
“(My brothers) were all players,” he says. “I’m the first goalie.”
Thinking the position would be fun to play, Stuart happily volunteered to go in net when no goalies showed up for a team he was trying out for.
Seeing his youngest son putting on the goalie equipment, Sam approached the coach – a friend of the family – and asked what was going on. The coach assured Sam that Stuart would play one game and if he didn’t like it he wouldn’t have to do it again.
When they got home Stuart put on his equipment and Sam sent his three older sons outside to warm little brother up.
“I was hoping that would solve my problem,” says Sam, laughing. A minute later Sam went out expecting to see Stuart waving the white flag. “Every puck that hit him, he was going, ‘yes, yes.’ So I knew at that point there was no hope for me that way. I could see even at that age it was a passion.”
By this point, Sam and his wife, Sue, were well versed on the art of coordinating their kids’ extracurricular activities. At their busiest, they had seven kids taking figure skating lessons, three of whom were starting to play hockey at the same time.
“It was like a taxi service getting the kids to and from hockey practices and games, figure skating, swimming and other different things,” says Sam. “People have asked us how we did it and we don’t have an answer.” It wasn’t uncommon for the two to spend the day in the car dropping one child off, then another, picking one up, then going to get another.
By the time Stuart started playing hockey things had quieted down ... relatively speaking. The older kids could look after themselves and grandkids started to come along. “We were still at the rink every day and there were workouts in the summer,” says Sam. “It’s always been busy but not like when there were seven.”
Sam and Sue were also getting some help with Stuart. Daughters Sarah, Sandra, Sharon, Shannon and Samantha all figure skated and could help Stuart with his skating – “That was a nice thing to have all those teachers at home,” says Sam – and Sam, himself, coached Stuart in spring hockey, with help from assistant coaches Scott and Sheldon.
Sam says Stuart, like all his kids, thrives in a competitive environment, and that having so much readily available friendly competition at home helped drive him to where he is today.
“He learned from his brothers and sisters that competitive, never-quit (attitude). He just has this amazing desire and focus to succeed.”
“My siblings and parents always wanted the best for me because I’m the last kid,” says Stuart. “My brothers were all done (playing) hockey, and they’ve really supported me through all my years of playing.”
That support has followed Stuart to Lethbridge, Alta., where he’s a goalie with the Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League. His parents, who still live in Edmonton, have yet to miss a game this season, whether that means making the five-hour drive to Lethbridge for home games or heading east to Saskatchewan a week before the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge to give some road support to the visitors.
And Stuart knows exactly where to look for them: goalie end, just to his right.
Aunts, uncles, nephews and even a grandma will be among the 11 family members making the trip to Sarnia-Lambton, Ont., to watch Stuart play for Canada Black.
“It’s a huge honour and privilege to play for your country,” says, Stuart, who turns 16 the day before the tournament starts.
It’s a goal he’s been striving toward since that fateful day he took his brothers’ best shots in the backyard. Seeing the hard work and sacrifices his youngest son has made since then pay off fills his parents with indescribable pride.
“I’m lost for words as to how happy we are to see him reach that goal that he’s worked for so many years,” says Sam. “We’re just so happy that he can represent Canada.”