2014 World Juniors: Brady Skjei latest to go further a year after being cut

Brady Skjei (left) entered the 2014 US World Juniors camp with a chip on his shoulder after being one of the final 2013 cuts - Bruce Bennett

The University of Minnesota sophomore defenseman is one of several 19 year-old players, which includes Wisconsin forward Nic Kerdiles and 2012 first round pick Stefan Matteau, to get a chance on the 2014 US team after being cut in 2013.

Having another opportunity can be a mixed bag. On one hand, there is room to grow and attempt to get better for next year. On the other hand, it means an end of one chance.

Being told that hurts regardless of there being another opportunity.

USA World Juniors GM Jim Johannson brought up this subject yesterday before the 2014 team, whose roster currently sits at 26 players, left Minneapolis for Sweden. Johannson and the United States coaching staff led by head coach Don Lucia cut three players - Michigan freshman J.T. Compher, Boston College freshman Ryan Fitzgerald and Sarnia Sting (OHL) defenseman Anthony DeAngelo - Wednesday morning. Having them be so close yet so far away can be a blessing and a curse.

"It's hard," he said about cutting the trio, which includes two that have eligibility next year in Compher and DeAngelo. "The compliment to the players is that they're here and at this stage of the World Junior process, but on a day like that I know it's pretty hollow to the guys that you let go."

University of Minnesota sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei was in that position last year. The 19 year-old, a 2012 first round draft pick of the New York Rangers, tried out for the U-20 World Junior team last year as an 18 year-old. It was a culmination of years of hard work. He spent the two prior seasons playing with the US National Development Program, had a tournament-high +10 rating in the 2012 U-18 World Championships, and after being picked in the first round attended the August 2012 camp in Lake Placid, New York.

Skjei instead was cut days before the United States began tournament play.

To make matters worse, he had to watch the 2013 team he came so close to making from afar while the United States won gold in Ufa, Russia. It was an experience which helped motivate the Lakeville, Minnesota native this time around.

"There's definitely a little chip on my shoulder from last year, but I mean I still haven't made the team this year yet," Skjei told SB Nation College Hockey prior to the start of camp. "So I still got to keep working and see what happens."

He isn't alone this year. New Jersey 2012 first round pick Stefan Matteau was cut at the same time as Skjei while Wisconsin sophomore Nicolas Kerdiles, whose chances at making the 2013 team were cut short by a ten game NCAA suspension, wasn't invited to the final camp. All three appear this time around to be making the team, which begins the 2014 World Juniors in Malmo, Sweden on December 26th, 2013.

"It's my last chance so I want to make this team and want to help this team achieve a gold medal, which is what we've set out to do," said Kerdiles, a 2012 second round pick of Anaheim. "I'm going to enjoy the spotlight of playing in a tournament on TV and having all my family and friends able to watch.

"It's going to be a fun time."

For the most part, the extra year has been helpful for the 19 year-olds. Kerdiles believes he is more consistent and can produce on the ice game in and game out compared to his freshman season. Skjei, meanwhile, focused on working out over the summer and gained 5 pounds of muscle on his 6'2" frame between freshman and sophomore year.

Where the extra year has really paid off for Skjei is maturity and confidence. If being cut from last year's WJC team was a motivating experience, his time in college has been a boon for development. The sophomore continues to be an outstanding skater, is getting better with positioning and moving the puck. Although not a pure offensive defenseman, he has gained more confidence shooting the puck compared to 12 months ago.

Skjei believes he has even grown during the three day camp at his collegiate home rink, Mariucci Arena.

"I think I've played strong, solid. My confidence is still going up," he said. "The coaches I think trust me and trust me with the puck so that's always good. I feel like I'm handling things better and better each day."

That can pay off in a short tournament played on Olympic-sized ice. While Lucia already is familiar with what Skjei can do being his coach at the University of Minnesota, Team USA is a different proposition. The USA head coach has stated multiple times in the lead up to the World Juniors that he envisions Skjei playing a more defensive role.

The Gopher defenseman is fine with that, for his part.

"I'll do whatever it takes for the team to be successful," said Skjei. "If that's being a defensive defenseman, I'll do that and block shots.

The tale of Skjei, Kerdiles and others in 2014 may still be, as Johannson said, hollow for the three players cut Wednesday. Same goes for the three players who will be cut on December 23rd. There's a lot for Compher and DeAngelo to learn before the 2015 World Juniors and a chance to be one of the leaders on that team. It even means that going further with the next chance will be a longer, sweeter celebration.

Well maybe not. In Skjei's case, the business marketing major went from learning he was going to Sweden to having to take an economics final later that morning.

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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