‘Stronger than I think I am’: Inside Stuart Skinner’s winning mentality

Edmonton native Stuart Skinner discusses what it's like living in his hometown while being the starting goaltender of the Oilers during an incredible post-season run.

EDMONTON — Ask forgiveness, not permission.

Even as a boy, Stuart Skinner — the youngest of a nine-kid family growing up in Edmonton — was wise enough to know such a philosophy can get a guy where he wants to go.

So, when his minor hockey club asked for a volunteer to play net, Skinner’s hand shot up like a Roman candle, even though he knew Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve. 

Something about the position pulled the boy in. And when his early coaches asked him to split crease time with another youngster, he bristled. Skinner wanted the net all to himself.

“Tell ya right now, I’m not quite sure why I wanted 100 mph shots coming right at me,” Skinner says. “My parents did not want me to play goalie.”

A wide smile spreads below the best moustache in the Stanley Cup Final: “I’m sure they were a little upset, but we’re all happy now.”

That goes for the goalie’s entire hometown, as Edmonton buzzes with anticipation of hosting the final 2023-24 NHL game on Canadian soil Friday and the belief that a local man done good can backstop the Oilers to the unimaginable.

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What’s remarkable is how Skinner is taking the weight of the situation in stride. That boy who rushed to strap on the pads, he used to sing tunes to himself from behind his mask during games, he loved playing so much. 

Today, Skinner is a notch more dialled in to be singing mid-action, but he’ll freely admit to nodding his head between whistles if the arena DJ cues up a banger to his liking.

“Don’t really feel too much pressure,” he shrugs. “No matter what, no matter how many people watch, no matter the scenario, no matter what time of year or what you’re playing for, I know my job is simple. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I just gotta keep the puck out of the net.”


We could debate which arrives first, the winning attitude or the winning. 

Regardless, Skinner’s math when the pressure intensifies this spring is top-of-the-class.

In Games 4, 5, 6 and 7, Skinner is a perfect 9-0 with a .938 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average. There is synchronicity between him and the skaters in front, and they have saved their best performances for the most critical moments.

“Any adversity rolls off his back pretty easily,” says coach Kris Knoblauch, who boldly sat Skinner midway through the Vancouver series. “Going back to the regular season, there are a few times that he could’ve been better. He always took ownership and always responded very quickly after a subpar performance. 

“Why he’s been able to do so well is just his mentality. Just like I talked about with our team, putting the past behind us and thinking about our next shift or our next game or next play. I think Stu’s done a really good job with that.”

As naturally as Skinner makes that seem, as chatty and personable as the goalie is before the biggest exams of his life, the 25-year-old’s positive outlook and mental fortitude are the product of practice.

Before his first NHL game, he could barely swallow his pregame meal, the goalie was so anxious.

Skinner’s newfound peace comes from meditation.

“Anything to get me in that Zen place, where I’m just really focused and able to be in the moment,” he says.

It comes from a quiver of reset techniques, such as heading to the bench for a guzzle of water, following a goal allowed.

It comes from deep conversations with his rich support network and the Oilers’ in-house “performance whisperer” George Mumford.

It comes from teammates, starting with captain Connor McDavid.

“Whether I let in five, whether I get a shutout, he’s always in my corner,” Skinner says. “He’s always patting me on the back and telling me that he believes in me.”

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It comes from clearing his mind by reading for fun (“The Lord of the Rings… that has not helped with how to stop the puck,” he grins) and for philosophy.

Skinner’s favourite author is Ryan Holiday. He has devoured the prolific writer’s entire catalogue — sample titles: The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into TriumphEgo Is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and Art of Living — and has already preordered Holiday’s next book. 

“Sometimes you don’t feel like reading, but it’s been a massive help for me to get some education,” Skinner says.

And it comes from enjoying the ride, whether that be chirping the best player in the world or killing the six-hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Edmonton by challenging his teammates to laughter-filled Mario Kart races. 

“I was amazing. I won a lot of games. I lost a couple, too, but we don’t have to talk about that,” says Skinner, a Toad loyalist, who regularly outraces Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ Mario. “He wants to be like me, so he picks the characters with moustaches.”

Most of all, Skinner attributes his casual confidence to surviving the adversity one accumulates from a lengthy junior trek, multiple bumps to the AHL buses of Bakersfield, and the pride that must be swallowed when the big club dumps you all the way down to ECHL Wichita.

“Strengthened my mind,” Skinner says. “I would do it all again.”

Early in this series, as the Panthers pumped in pucks and jumped to a giant 3-0 lead, Florida fans taunted the Final’s less-experienced goalie: Skiiiiin-ner! The usual head games.

Skinner says he’s finally reached a point in his career where he can earmuff the crowd, but it wasn’t always that way. The jeers at home games as a teenager stung sharpest. 

“I’ve been booed very loudly,” he says, thinking back to WHL Lethbridge, where he posted a sub-.900 save percentage and got dealt to Swift Current. “Especially when you’re young, you wanted that good attention, wanted everyone to chant your name and feel good about yourself. But those things can be distractions.

“So many ups, so many downs, but I’ve been able to bounce back and find myself. Finding that resiliency in myself is something I’m very proud of. It shows myself that I’m stronger than I think I am.”

In this moment, Skinner is looking stronger than his counterpart on the Panthers, the decidedly less chatty and available Sergei Bobrovsky, who has not conducted an on-camera interview since getting yanked in Game 4.

Ten years Skinner’s senior, Bobrovsky is one of the goaltenders Skinner studied. He cribbed his foil’s techniques, particularly Bobrovsky’s edge control and skating ability.

“The way he moves, it’s kinda poetic for a goalie to watch,” Skinner says. “I’m kind of in awe.”

Over the past two games, however, Skinner has straight stolen Bobrovsky’s spotlight.

Ask forgiveness, not permission.

Sorry, not sorry.

And if Skinner can somehow keep his Game 6 and 7 record clean, maybe — just maybe — the Oil can steal themselves a reverse-sweep Stanley Cup.

“No matter what happens, we have the strength to keep playing, keep working hard, and keep enjoying the experience,” Skinner says. “And play my absolute heart out.

“It’d be amazing. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to hoist the Cup over our heads, give it a couple kisses hopefully. It would be absolutely electric for this city.”

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