Not a lot of five-foot-nine 16-year-olds would have the guts to do what Mitch Skapski did during a Sept. 14 road game in Surrey.
Late in the first period, the Abbotsford native got under the skin of six-foot-four and 215 pound Eagles blueliner Craig Wyszomirski.
Skapski was going what he normally does, playing hard and tenacious hockey whilst driving opponents nuts. He pushed Wyszomirski over the edge with a slash, and the D-man dropped the mitts.
Skapski didn’t hesitate to answer the bell.
“He pushed me, and once that happens I get a little upset,” he said. “I can say I’ve got a little bit of a short fuse.”
Though other players his age and size would have shied away from taking on a much bigger player (a 20-year-old at that), Skapski went after Wyszomirski like a pitbull.
“I don’t have any little voices telling me not to do things like that,” Skapski laughed. “It might be a good idea if I did, because it would save me from certain situations. But I enjoy coming to the bench and getting a pat on the back after I go after a big guy.”
That fight tells you what you need to know about Chilliwack’s youngest player. That tells you why assistant coach Doug Ast has taken to calling him Skrapski.
“He threw some heaters but I felt I held in there pretty good,” Skapski said. “I didn’t think of it in the moment, but I did in the dressing room five minutes later. I was pretty proud of myself, but then I thought, ‘How stupid am I? I could have really gotten hurt there.’”
There’s another nickname he might like, one that embodies Skapski’s no-fear approach.
One of the smaller animals in the wild is also one of the fiercest, which can certainly be said of Skapski.
“It’s not really my goal to aggravate people, but battling hard seems to do it,” he said. “Having the little guy win the puck battle seems to push buttons. I don’t really see myself as a grinder or agitator. I see myself as a hard-working player who can score goals and make plays.”
Even Skapski’s not sure where the no-fear thing comes from. Maybe it comes with being the middle brother, stuck between 18-year-old Mackenzie and 14-year-old Marshall.
Maybe it is, as Skapski calls it, a case of little man syndrome. Whatever the reason, his on-ice demeanour is quickly making him a Chilliwack fan favourite.
“You’ve got to prove yourself out there when you’re the small guy playing against the big guy,” Skapski explained.
Off the ice, Skapski is far less in-your-face. Younger brother Marshall is the most outgoing of the three Skapski boys.
“He’ll hug anyone he sees,” Skapski laughed. “He’ll go up to anyone and start yapping away with them.”
In his downtime, you’ll likely find Skapski taking in some TV, with some… unusual… choices.
“Ellen Degeneres at 4 p.m. and X-Factor at 8 p.m.,” Skapski said with a grin. “A lot of people are surprised by the Ellen thing, but I just love her. I have her book, and if I ever got a National Hockey League signing bonus, I’d spend that to go watch the show live.”
And how does he explain X-Factor?
“I enjoy all those singing shows, but I enjoy that one because there’s more money, it’s more dramatic, and Simon Cowell and Brittany Spears are on it just trashing people,” Skapski said.
Skapski undoubtedly takes some razzing from his teammates over these choices. But if it wasn’t TV it would be something else.
It just goes with the territory when you’re the rookie.
“But the guys are good to me, especially (Mathieu) Tibbett who’s been watching out for me since the first day of camp,” Skapski said. “They’re great people and I couldn’t have asked for better teammates.”
Skapski played for the Fraser Valley Bruins in the BC Major Midget Hockey League last year and did very well.
He and Matt Revel (since departed to Saskatoon) were two of the biggest offseason recruiting targets for Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl.
“I absolutely love players like that who play 100 per cent every shift they get,” Smyl said. “He’s got tons of potential and as he grows in this league he’s going to be one of those guys other teams absolutely hate to play against. Guys like him keep coming and coming and make your life hell, and he gets to be a pain in the butt to play against.”
Smyl probably sees something of himself in Skapski.
Hockey research site hockeydb.com had Smyl listed at five-foot-10 and 167 pounds during his playing days in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and NCAA. Smyl was able to rack up points and penalty minutes equally well.
“I’ve watched Mitch for two years and I know what he’s about,” Smyl said when asked about his rookie taking on behemoth D-men in fights. “Kids like that always seem to find a way.”
Long term, it’s still a question about which hockey route Skapski will take.
Older brother Mackenzie chose the Western Hockey League, and he’s now into his third season with the Kootenay Ice. At his current height and age, Skapski might be viewed as not ready to take on the rigours of major junior hockey.
His WHL rights belong to the Everett Silvertips.
Smyl understands the lure of WHL, but he also believes Skapski could take the BCHL route, get himself an NCAA scholarship and still end up where he really wants to be, in the NHL.
“I think the curve for him can go up, up, up constantly,” the bench boss said. “He’s so young and the style he plays — he’s effective at this age and I can only imagine how effective he’ll be when he’s got a year or two under his belt.”
Skapski’s Chiefs have two home games coming up this week.
Chilliwack sees the Langley Rivermen for the first time Wednesday night, with puck drop at 7 p.m. The Vernon Vipers are in town for a Saturday night clash, also starting at 7 p.m.