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Skinner's big fan base on display in Raleigh

Saturday, 01.29.2011 / 3:48 PM / 2011 NHL All-Star Game - Presented by Discover

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Skinner's big fan base on display in Raleigh
'Adorable' Jeff Skinner is developing quite a following, particularly among hockey moms and their daughters during his rookie season for the Carolina Hurricanes.
RALEIGH -- They've got Skinner Fever in Canes Country, and it's comparable to the cult following teen pop sensation Justin Bieber has nationwide.

Carolina's All-Star rookie, Jeff Skinner, has become a rock star in Raleigh, so much so that he has teenage girls forcing their parents to buy tickets to Hurricanes games just so they can get an in-person look at the newest teen sensation in town.

"It has a Justin Bieber-type feel to it, but he's got a Justin Bieber-type look, too," Carolina captain Eric Staal told NHL.com. "It's exciting for him. He's probably going to get the loudest ovation on Sunday."

Raleigh moms like Lisa Musilek were seen Friday at the NHL Fan Fair toting around Skinner pictures for their daughters. Madison Musilek, 14, was waiting with her friends in a 90-minute line in hopes of getting Skinner's autograph and maybe even a handshake, a wink, a smile -- anything.

Just think of the story she could tell in school Monday.

"Oh my gosh, it's crazy," Lisa Musilek told NHL.com. "We definitely like hockey, but our interest in hockey has skyrocketed this year and our budget to buy tickets has, too. I see season tickets in our future."

But why Skinner? What is the fascination with the kid from Markham, Ont., who on Sunday at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover will become the youngest player in League history to play for an All-Star team?

Skinner is 18 years and 259 days old.

"He's adorable," Musilek said. "He's really good. And he's adorable."

Skinner, the kid who can pass for 15 but plays like he's 30, is doing his best not to let his fame go to his head.

"I can only appreciate it," he told NHL.com. "It's great. It's just a lot of fun. When you're 18 years old and you get to wake up everyday and go to the rink and play hockey, you're pretty fortunate. It's been a wild ride … pretty fun."

Considering how far he's come in just one year, it's not at all surprising how modest Skinner is being even in the face of so much public adoration.

NHL Central Scouting had him pegged as the 47th best North American skater in their 2010 mid-term rankings. He improved to No. 34 when the final rankings were released in April, but Carolina took a chance and used the No. 7 pick in the 2010 Entry Draft on the kid who put up 90 points in 64 games for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers last season.

"He was rated low, and it's not something that we gave a lot of thought to," Andy Skinner, Jeff's father, told NHL.com. "To be honest it was probably in some sense annoying, but those that were close to Jeff, in particular his family, have always had confidence in him. Jeff always said he's going to prove his detractors wrong and his supporters right. He went through it with a quiet confidence and didn't have the feelings that I did that he was being underrated. It was a nice relief when it was all over and we were very happy with the team that chose him, obviously."

Skinner's fame wouldn't be as big if he wasn't such a huge success on the ice, too. He leads all NHL rookies with 40 points in 50 games. Only Staal has more points (52) among the Hurricanes.

His inclusion in the All-Star game as an injury replacement is a deserved one considering the season he had.

"I think that's right and I'm glad that's the case because I don't think he ever expected it," Andy Skinner said. "He's put up good numbers and he'd be the first one to tell you that the organization, his linemates and teammates have done so much to get him where he is. We're obviously excited for him and know this weekend is just going to be another chapter in his young life."

Andy Skinner is enjoying his son's wild All-Star weekend with him while mom Elizabeth is back home attending games for their other son, Benjamin, a 20-year-old varsity hockey player at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

The Skinners also have four daughters -- 25-year-olds twins Jennifer and Andrea, 22-year-old Erica and Jillian, who at 16 is the baby of the family.

The seven of them will not let Jeff's fame change him.

"He's got five other siblings, including his younger sister, who will keep him in line and remind him that he's a lucky guy and he better keep his humility and his outlook," Andy Skinner said.

"My older sisters and my older brother would beat me up if I started getting too cocky," Jeff confirmed.

Skinner doesn't have the personality that would suggest that he has anything more than a strong air of confidence about him. He's far from cocky and seems to be completely humbled by the attention he gets here.

Maybe that's why the mothers and teenage daughters here in Canes Country love him dearly.

The mothers see him as the perfect boy for their daughters to bring home. The daughters just see him as perfect.

"I think he's a nice kid, and he is a great player," Musilek said. "I know he's from Canada, but he seems like the All-American boy. He's handling his fame really well. What a great kid and that says a lot about the parents. They raised a really nice boy. He seems to be really a natural at all this attention that's being brought to him. It's really amazing. What a good kid."

Andy Skinner said that's just Jeff. He's not acting when he smiles in front of the cameras, or when he explains to his dad how much fun he had after yet another mobbed event is all over.

"I've been joking with him that he's like the Justin Bieber of Raleigh right now. The city is just in love with him and rightfully so. To tell you the truth, as a guy in my sixth year, he makes the game more enjoyable for me watching him in practice and seeing how passionate he is about it."
-- Carolina goalie Cam Ward, on Jeff Skinner

And really, that's about all he says, Andy Skinner said.

"He's a genuinely humble person and he doesn't seek the limelight. In fact, he tries to avoid it by nature," Jeff's father said. "But he's naturally personable, so none of it is an act. He's youthful, so I think he's got a certain appeal to the younger fans. He's generally relaxed and he's himself. That has some appeal, too."

It does within the Hurricanes' dressing room.

"It's that smile he puts on his face," Carolina goalie Cam Ward said. "I've been joking with him that he's like the Justin Bieber of Raleigh right now. The city is just in love with him and rightfully so. To tell you the truth, as a guy in my sixth year, he makes the game more enjoyable for me watching him in practice and seeing how passionate he is about it."

Added Staal: "It's just his energy. When you watch him on the ice, watch him in interviews, you feel his personality. He's just truly a good kid and you're excited for him and excited to see him."

And some of the fans in Raleigh are sure to screech when they do.

"I was told they have great fans here and it's one of the loudest buildings in the League," Skinner said. "They definitely haven't disappointed. They definitely haven't."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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