EDMONTON, AB - Early adversity for the Bakersfield Condors comes in many forms.
But how they adapt and grow from it is what they're committed to finding out.
The Condors have already seen plenty of highs and lows through their opening 15 games of the 2019-20 AHL season, sitting fifth in the Pacific Division with a 7-7-1 record after splitting back-to-back games on the road against the Colorado Eagles this past weekend.
"I think it's been 50/50 as of right now," netminder Stuart Skinner said. "We win some, we lose some. Just this last month-and-a-half that we've been playing, it's been a little bit of a rollercoaster. There's been some really tough games that we came out winning and tough games that we came out losing."
But with a growing list of injuries around the Condors that includes defenceman Vincent Desharnais, forward Cooper Marody and goaltender Shane Starrett, players are pushing their boundaries to fill in the gaps.
"It's always tough seeing one of your buddies go down," Skinner said. "We've kind of been going through some adversity in those circumstances. You never want to see that and wouldn't wish injuries on your worst enemies. It sucks to see that for sure, but it's given me and other guys opportunities. We're going to have to do our best with that."
At the forefront of that next-man-up mentality is Skinner, who after starting only six games for the Condors during the '18-19 regular season has started 10 of 12 games since Starrett was sidelined following a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Barracuda back on October 13.
In four separate back-to-back weekends so far this season, the Edmonton, Alberta product has been called upon to play the full 120 minutes.
"It's been a lot of fun for me," Skinner said. "It's given me a lot of opportunity to see the AHL game from my perspective, just from how tough it is to play here and how fun it is, too. It's been a really good time for all of us learning about different teams, learning about ourselves individually, and it's been a really good growth couple of months for myself and my game.
"It's been a lot of fun and I've enjoyed playing hockey. I hope it keeps on happening."
Skinner is 6-3-1 overall with a 2.85 goals-against average and .898 save percentage as the 21-year-old and his teammates work to move the needle forward while embracing the growth mentality employed by Head Coach Jay Woodcroft and his coaching staff.
"It's actually given me greater confidence in myself that they are trusting me with it," Skinner said of his coaching staff. "It seems like they have my back. They're helping me out every single day."
Condors Goaltending Coach Sylvain 'Sly' Rodrigue leads Skinner's support staff, keeping his preparation and training dialled in with plenty of attention to the netminder's details in video and on-ice sessions. Woodcroft's motivational methods in the locker room are well documented and are always able to provide a lift to Skinner and his teammates when needed.
"It's always about growth, working on your game, and getting better every day," Skinner said. "Jay does a really good job at making sure the guys know mentally that we're there to get better every single day. So I think it's just keeping our foot on the gas pedal and keep going because I think we'll be fine."
Through it all, Skinner continues operating alongside his fellow Condors with his underlying sense of gratefulness to play every day that he communicated after his first AHL Calder Cup Playoff start back on May 11 in a 46-save, double-overtime victory over the San Diego Gulls in Game 5 of the Pacific Division Final.
"It's been a lot of fun being able to be around the coaching staff and the guys that we have. Hockey's more than a game," he said. "After you step on the ice and once you get off, you have a big group of guys that care for you and you care for a lot. The same with the coaching staff."
"I'm just grateful to be playing hockey, and grateful to be alive having this opportunity to play in California with this great group of guys. There's gratitude in everybody's mindset, I believe."