The United States National Developmental Team Program has been lauded in recent years for its ability to properly groom young American players for high-level international play and the NHL. On that list of graduates is Minnesota Golden Gopher defenseman Brady Skjei, who has arguably been the University of Minnesota’s best defenseman this season and through the NCAA Tournament.
Skjei had an assist and was on the ice for both Minnesota goals in the Frozen Four semifinal, including the game winner with 0.6 seconds left in the third period, as Minnesota snuck by the University of North Dakota 2-1 to advance to the Frozen Four final and face Union Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. His presence on the back end and his poise in the defensive zone is just one of the many reasons Minnesota came into the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the country.
Drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (28th overall), the Lakeville, MN native didn’t need to think twice about where he would play the following season.
“Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been watching the Gophers play since I was five years old,” said Skjei. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play here and once I had the opportunity to play here, I wasn’t going to turn it down.
“I think playing against older guys, more mature guys, guys that are 22 and 23, guys that are strong and physically developed, playing against them on defense, I think that’s going to translate well into the NHL.”
The 20-year-old sophomore was a member of the 2012 United States U-18 World Championship team, and played for the USA in the 2014 World Junior Championships. A great student, he graduated high school with honors and is now studying business at Minnesota – though at the rate he’s playing, a four-year college career may not even be in the cards.
Nonetheless, Skjei is focused on winning a national championship – his dream from the time he was a child. Ask him about their current situation, and he smiles just like he did when thinking about this scenario years ago in his Lakeville home.
“It’s awesome,” he said, “Especially after losing big guys like [Nick] Bjugstad and [Erik] Haula [to the NHL]. We were able to prove ourselves this year. It’s been unbelievable. We’re not done yet, but we’ve shown what we can do as a team.”
Adding a National Championship to his personal resume may just be the boost Skjei needs to make the jump to the professional ranks.