BAKERSFIELD, CA - In a moment that sparked future triumph, Stuart Skinner could only assess the significance of opportunity and the incredible experience of being a Condor.
The Edmonton, Alberta product found out on the bus ride back to Bakersfield after Game 4 that he was in line to make his first-career AHL Calder Cup Playoff start with the Condors facing elimination.
"When I found out, I [had] a big smile on my face and was looking outside thinking about how grateful I am," Skinner said of the moment. "Thinking about being in this situation, it's a blessing to be where I am and being able to do it with the group of guys in there. We're a tight squad and I think I just want to play my hardest for the guys just like how they want to play the hardest for the guys just like how they want to play their hardest for the guys beside them."
Video: POST-RAW | Stuart Skinner 05.11.19
Skinner made two-straight relief appearances in goal for the Condors in Games 3 and 4 before making 45 stops on 46 shots to help the Condors stay alive in the AHL Pacific Division Final with a 2-1 double-overtime win, cutting the series to 3-2 in favour of the Gulls heading back to San Diego for Game 6 on Monday.
"Stellar. Unbelievable," Josh Currie, who doubled with Skinner as the hero of Condorstown on Friday with the game-winning goal, said of his netminder.
"There are so many words to describe how he played tonight. He did a great job, he was calm and poised in there for a young kid getting thrown into Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs. For him to show his confidence like that, it's impressive. I'm really happy for him, he's an awesome guy, and I couldn't be happier for that kid."
The 20-year-old started the season in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder and hadn't made a start in the AHL since March 8 during the regular season against the Stockton Heat.
"Stuart started playoffs not dressing, and now he's played in the last three games in Round 2 and given us a chance to win every night," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said.
Leaning on his own experiences as a WHL champion with the Swift Current Broncos in his final season before entering the professional ranks would be paramount ahead of his first playoff appearance.
"For me, I just go back on my experience playing in juniors and playing in those playoffs," Skinner said. "That obviously helped me a lot, especially being in the situation that we're in right now. I think it kind of made me a little bit calmer than if it was my first game in playoffs. I go back on my experience of just being calm, being ready and just being sharp - keep my focus just like any other game."
Skinner handled the pressure of double overtime by making a number of game-saving stops over the course of the 33:02 of extra time.
"That's where experience kicks in - being mentally strong," he added. "Going through tough times, going through adversity, that's where you get stronger and that's when you grow as a person and mentally as well. Every time there's adversity chances, that's an opportunity to be strong mentally and it helped me tonight, obviously, and our team as well."
Going through the process with his teammates in Round 2 of the AHL playoffs has Skinner's motivation as a professional at an all-time high.
"I forgot how much fun it was to play in a game and now that I'm able to play," he said. "I'm just grateful to be in the situation that I'm in. I'm just happy to be in the dressing room with the guys and we get to enjoy our times together."