On the ice, things have been going well for Skoula. He has immediately gained the confidence of head coach Jacques Lemaire, having averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game. That’s good for a player who has only missed five games in six seasons because of injury. He scored a goal and an assist in his second game with the Wild, and he hadn’t posted a negative rating until finishing last night’s 4-2 loss to Dallas a minus-two.
We caught up with Skoula on Thursday to find out how he has adjusted to his new surroundings, what it’s like to replace a fan favorite, and what it was like to be on the other end of that memorable 2003 playoff series between the Wild and the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s been a hectic two weeks for you since you were traded to Minnesota. Overall, how has the adjustment gone for you?
I really like it here. It’s a great hockey town and a great organization. I would say the adjustment has been pretty good.
Were you aware that Minnesota was as hockey-crazed as it is before you came here?
I knew that Minnesota was good for hockey, but I didn’t think it was going to be that big. Then you see the tournaments for the high schools and colleges, so it was surprising.
You came right when those tournaments started up. Did you get a chance to see a high school or college game?
I wish, but not yet. There have been all kinds of stuff to move and take care of.
What types of things do you need to take care of? Where do you stay and how do you get around when you all of a sudden are living in a new city?
At first, I was in a hotel here, and then the team got me a furnished apartment here in Minneapolis. So I moved in there and yesterday, when we played in Dallas, I packed most of my clothes and brought them with me on the plane.
Right now, I have a rental car and I’m shipping my car from Dallas to Minnesota.
And I noticed you have a German Shepherd. Where is he?
He’s back in the Czech Republic right now. My girlfriend is back there too, so I was by myself this year. So I didn’t have him in Dallas because I wouldn’t have anybody to take care of him when I was on the road.
I had to leave him with my sister and I hope to be able to bring him over here next year.
Whenever a player gets traded for another, he is linked to that player. You got traded for a popular defenseman in Willie Mitchell. Do you find yourself feeling any pressure to earn the respect and admiration of those fans that loved him?
Yeah, obviously. I want to play as well as I can and help the team the best way I can. It doesn’t matter if we’re in or out of the playoffs; I want to play my best for the fans.
Talk about being sent from a playoff team to one that is unlikely to see the postseason this year.
Well, there is no choice. That’s part of the business…being traded. Even though we probably don’t have much of a chance for the playoffs, that doesn’t mean that next year, we can’t be in one of those eight spots.
There’s always going to be changes at the end of any season, but in looking at this team, do you feel the components are in place to make that push for the playoffs?
Yeah, I feel we’re moving in that direction. I remember being in Colorado when Minnesota beat us in the playoffs in Game Seven. I think the team can move back in that direction.
You’re the first member of the Avalanche team to end up playing for the Wild. What was the feeling among the Colorado team when the Wild upset it in the playoffs?
I think we were caught a little bit off guard because we were the favored team to win the Stanley Cup. We were playing a team that never really had any experience in the playoffs. Minnesota played really well. They had a lot of young guys and they stuck together and won.
You’ve won a Stanley Cup with the Avs. What was so special about that team that carried it to a championship?
We obviously had a really good team, but now that I look back at it, I will always remember the whole thing about Ray Bourque. It was his last year and I think that brought the team together even more. The stories are unforgettable. I was only 20 back then so I didn’t even realize how special it was. But it was a great moment, to see him win the Cup in his last year in the League.
Colorado threw you right into the fold. You basically went right from major junior in Canada to playing 80 games the following season. That’s quite a jump.
Yeah, it’s totally different when you’re comparing juniors in Canada or a farm team. They’re totally different than the NHL.
I think when you’re young; you don’t really realize what’s going on. You just want to play, so you’re not thinking about how it’s tough to make that jump. I would say it’s not easier, but it’s a lot different than coming in when you’re 25 and having worked through the minors.
You obviously speak very good English. How did you come to learn the language?
Well, I played in Canada and I had a roommate that taught me some words (smiles). I didn’t really know any before I came over, but I had watched cartoons, just like a little kid! So obviously, the first words I learned were the bad words from the guys in the locker room.
The Dallas media guide says you like to surf around the Internet. What kind of sites are you going to?
Well, I do surf, but it’s not like I’m an Internet freak. I just go on for an hour a day to check out the news.
Do you ever go to a team message board to find out what fans are saying about you or the team you play for?
Yeah, I’ve done that a little bit, but I’m not saying I go there every day or every week.
And Wild.com, is it the best website you’ve ever been to?
(laughs) Yeah, yeah! Sure.
What else do you enjoy doing away from the rink?
Well, not long ago I bought the Xbox 360, so that’s kept me busy for a while. I read books and check out movies. Sometimes I like to play chess on the computer, but I wouldn’t say that I would be good at it. I just like to play it.