Though the ending was not what Brady Skjei nor Team USA envisioned at the 2016 World Championships, the opportunity to represent his country the past three weeks in Russia certainly put an exclamation point on Skjei's first season as a professional hockey player.
"It was a frustrating ending for sure, but overall it was a really good experience for me," Skjei told BlueshirtsUnited.com after arriving back home in Minnesota earlier in the week. "It helped my confidence a ton that the coaching staff trusted me to play out there in big time parts of games."
The 22 year-old Skjei appeared in all ten games which the United States played in this year's tournament, scoring one goal, while logging the fourth most ice time among the team's defensemen.
The underdog U.S. squad upset the Czech Republic 2-1 in a shootout to open the medal round and led Canada 3-2 late in the second period of their semifinal contest. However Skjei's Rangers teammate Derick Brassard netter the equalizer before that second period ended and Canada scored early in the third to rally past the United States, 4-3. Team USA then was defeated by Russia 7-2 to drop the Bronze Medal game and finish fourth at the 2016 Worlds.
"That was such a huge win against the Czechs, and then we're a goal away from going to the Gold Medal game which I don't think anyone could have predicted," Skjei said. "I wish we could have come back to medal, for sure, but I still had a great time."
Part of what made the experience so positive for Skjei was the opportunity to spend several weeks in Moscow and St. Petersberg, his first trip ever to Russia.
"It was awesome because I love traveling, and it was nice to see that part of the world," explained Skjei. "It was cool to witness that culture and seeing Red Square and all of that. It was pretty neat, for sure."
Skjei said that playing so many games in such a short span of time with so much at stake was an important learning tool for him, not dissimilar from his first NHL playoff experiences in April with the Rangers.
"You really learn to take care of your body and to get proper rest in a grind like that," offered Skjei. "You also have to adapt quickly and focus on the right things come game time."
Skjei's solid play at the 2016 World Championships capped a strong first season after leaving college in the spring of 2015. Skjei played in 68 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the minor leagues--registering 28 points--and another seven in the regular season with the Rangers--including his NHL debut on December 15 against the Edmonton Oilers.
The rookie defenseman then played in all five of the Blueshirts post-season contests in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, more than capably handling himself as the game's speed, intensity and importance all ratcheted up. Skjei recorded a pair of assists and finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring with two points, while also posting a +1 plus/minus rating.
If you think, though, that with the success he had this year Brady Skjei is taking for granted a regular spot in the Rangers lineup next fall, you'd be sorely mistaken. While he states that his confidence is high, he is also aware that much work still needs to be done to be a regular defenseman in the National Hockey League.
"I know that I can play at that level now, and I know that I can achieve success at that level, but I'll be working hard this summer to get better so that I'm ready to make an impact immediately at (training) camp in September," explained Skjei. "I learned this season what I need to work on--and there's plenty, like working on my shot, stickhandling, making plays--and I want to get stronger, too. So there's plenty I'll be working on this summer."
That is exactly the type attitude the Rangers like to see from their top pick in the 2012 draft. The confidence is there, but without any complacency. And the work ethic is the backbone of the player Brady Skjei plans to be moving forward for the New York Rangers.