Professional hockey player Jacke Skille moves to Park City, hosts clinics
The summer doldrums are here for professional hockey player Jack Skille. But he doesn’t plan on spending them lounging around.
The winger, who recently finished the season with Genève-Servette HC in Switzerland’s National League, has come to Park City for the offseason to put down roots and embrace his passion for coaching the sport he has built his life around.
Skille, 31, moved to town on April 11 to be near his girlfriend, a Parkite named Sara, who he met while playing with Genève-Servette.
Skille always wanted to make a home in the mountains – Denver, where he played with the Avalanche, didn’t count, he said – and certain aspects of the local hockey scene made Park City not just a enjoyable place to roost but a practical one.
He visited Park City in 2015 as part of the Park City Invitational summer hockey camp, and returned the next year, but the untimely death of organizer Brett Merl brought an end to the Invitational.
“I had no other reason to come back, but I always wanted to,” he said.
Sara bridged that gap, and now, Skille is hosting a series of practices at the Park City Ice Arena from April through August. He’s starting with youth players age 12 to 15, but is interested in coaching anyone who wants to learn the game – goalies can participate for free.
Skille’s taken a winding road to get to Summit County.
He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, played high school hockey at Madison West, then spent two years with his hometown Badgers before being picked seventh overall the 2005 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. After four years in the Windy City playing with the Blackhawks and its affiliate, the Rockford Ice Hogs, Skille was released, and has essentially traveled as a free agent since, playing in Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, British Columbia, plus Finland, Belarus and, now, Switzerland.
Over that time, he’s most proud of his 2013-2014 NHL season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It was the hardest; the most challenging year that I’ve had,” he said.
At the time, Skille was going between playing for the Springfield Thunderbirds, an American Hockey League team in Springfield, Massachusetts, and regularly joining the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus. Regulations dictated he could only play a certain number of days in the NHL before going back to the AHL, so he was making frequent trips back and forth.
But during that time, Skille was able to put a good showing together, regain his confidence and make an impact at the NHL level on the team’s fourth line.
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.
“Those are the only six NHL playoff games I have under my belt and I’ll never forget it,” he said.
He said he has no regrets, especially of his time in Columbus, but he’s also had seasons that he wishes he had back.
In 2015-2016 he was with the Colorado Avalanche for one of his best seasons – playing 74 games and racking up eight goals and six assists.
But if he could do it over again, he would go back today.
“I just ran out of gas,” he said. “I think it was midway through the season. I was on this great path. Our line was playing really well. They even had a nickname for us – the ‘gladiator line.’”
He, John Mitchell and Cody McCloud were playing at the tops of their games each game as the Avalanche’s fourth line, and were a constant threat. But Skille said he lost focus after a certain point.
“I just wish I could go back and give my head a shake and maybe punch myself in the head,” he said. “Looking back on my career, I think that was a really good chance to be extended and make a home in an NHL city.”
But he’s not dwelling on that season.
He finished this season at Genève-Servette HC with five goals and five assists in 23 games. Though he’s still keeping an ear out for calls from the NHL, he said playing in Geneva wasn’t bad, either.
“To play hockey there is the trip,” he said. “They do a really good job taking care of the players. The way the league is set up, you get a lot of free time.”
A season in the National League is 50 games long instead of the NHL’s 82, and Skille and his teammates sometimes got – luxury of luxuries for professional hockey players – two consecutive days off to relax.
“You get a life outside of hockey, which for me, playing in the NHL in America, you don’t really get to experience that,” he said.
On weekends, he was just an hour drive from the famous French ski resort town of Chamonix, or a three-and-a-half hour train ride from (the original) Zermatt. The Alps were his oyster.
He said his teammates would sometimes hop on a flight to Paris for a weekend trip.
“It’s just a great gig,” he said.
But Skille said coaching in the offseason is an easy choice for him. Not only does he have the fundamentals of the game down pretty well – he has a solid 600 professional games under his belt – he also has a lot of experience at camps.
He’s coached with the Hockey Ministry’s Hockey International Camps, and launched his own camp in Madison last year.
Skille said his interest in coaching partly comes from his father, Lee, who has spent more than 30 years coaching and teaching, both hockey and various high school classes. He has also served as athletic director at Madison West.
“Part of my childhood was bumping around from camp to camp with my dad enjoying the game of hockey,” Skille said.
Now, he’s hoping to pass that experience and enthusiasm for the game along.
Skille could end up back in Geneva, or with Dinamo Misnk in Eurasia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where he competed two seasons ago, or he could end up competing for another NHL/AHL team.
But he said as time goes by, he’s focusing more on community – both being part of one and building the one he’s in.
“I’m here in the area,” he said. “I’m excited to serve the community and all ages are welcome to contact me. I don’t bite. I’m willing to help in whatever way I can.”
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The Miners ended up on the wrong side of a close game on senior night but are still fighting for playoff seeding.