Right winger from St. Davids spent three years in Quebec junior league
Special to The Lake Report
Brandon Skubel had high hopes for his first season playing university hockey this year. And like everyone else, the Niagara-on-the-Lake native is hoping life returns to normal soon.
The talented right winger, who grew up playing hockey in Niagara, joined the McGill University men’s varsity team this year after a stellar three years playing in Quebec’s major junior league.
His first season of university hockey in Montreal was frustratingly short-lived, though.
“September and October, we practised for a couple of weeks and then COVID got really bad again and then everything just shut down, our season got cancelled,” says Skubel, 21.
He is enrolled in the arts program at McGill, but says he is aiming for a major in economics and a minor in social entrepreneurship.
This summer, while he’s home in St. Davids, he is putting that into practice by operating his own business, Niagara Student Painters.
Because he played three seasons for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he has three years of post-secondary schooling paid for.
“My junior career, it was a grind. It was a lot of hard work, really busy but a lot of fun, and there were no regrets,” says Skubel.
In 178 games with the Voltigeurs, he had 41 goals and 74 assists for 115 regular-season career points. Skubel also won the team’s defensive player of the year award in his final season.
Liam Heelis, head coach of the McGill Redbirds, says he’s really happy to have a player of Skubel’s talent and demeanour on the team.
He first met Skubel in his last junior year at Marcel Dionne Arena in Drummondville and says he instantly recognized he wanted him to play at McGill.
“I knew right away this was a person we wanted on our team. He had a high level of respect and positive regard for everyone on his team in Drummondville,” says Heelis.
“For us, what makes Brandon special is how he conducts himself and treats others,” Heelis told The Lake Report.
“He has a unique presence around him, a presence that his teammates want to be around. His good habits are contagious for his teammates.”
Heelis says that as a team player, Skubel is a strong communicator and a natural leader, even though he is a first-year student-athlete.
Besides his commitment, Skubel is the type of player to practise his skills religiously and expresses his ideas in a way that is clear for his teammates to understand, the coach says.
Skubel, who has played hockey for most of his life, says he began playing in Virgil when he was about four years old. He went on to play elite AAA hockey for the Niagara North Stars but wasn't drafted by any Ontario Hockey League teams. He spent the 2015-16 season at Ridley College and the following he was with the Junior B St. Catharines Falcons.
“I went out to Drummondville in the summer and I met up with their coaches and general managers. Then we had a talk about what they had for us and then I chose to go to Drummondville. I thought they had a better program and I really liked their coach,” says Skubel.
At age 18, he attended a 10-day tryout camp and made the team.
Hockey is in his blood, he says, as his father and uncles play the game, which motivated him to play it as well. His sister, Maddy, played a little when she was younger.
“This is something that I am super fortunate about and it keeps me passionate as well getting to see my uncles still play hockey at their age,” Skubel says in an email.
His father Bruno says Brandon has relied on his hustle and hard work to succeed. He particularly recalls one time after a AAA hockey game around the peewee age when Brandon did not have a good game and ended being moved onto a different line by the coach.
“We had a discussion at the dinner table where I asked him, ‘Were you happy with your game?’ and he said no,” Bruno told The Lake Report in an email.
“I told him the best thing to do was to skate against the fastest player on his team during practice and he went out next practice and did exactly what we talked about. I think this is where he accepted that he had to work hard to achieve what he needed to do.”
He says Brandon applies the same work ethic to his schooling. “As parents, we are very proud of his accomplishments and continue to support him,” says Bruno.
This off-season, Skubel is committed to training for hockey, but COVID makes it difficult.
“Right now, it’s definitely tricky because everything is kind of shut down,” he says, but he usually works out about an hour a day.
Skubel likes to spend his free time with his family: his mother Donna, dad and sister. He also likes to watch a lot of live games and tries to stay as active as possible and keep his hockey skills sharp when he’s not on the rink.
With Niagara Student Painters, he hopes to stay busy this summer and notes he is looking to hire some hard-working students to help them gain marketing, sales and labour experience doing interior and exterior painting around Niagara.
Skubel credits his strong work ethic for his accomplishments and hopes to motivate young people who aspire to achieve similar success.
“Wherever you are, you have to work hard for it. The biggest thing is to make sure you’re working hard for it and looking to improve,” he says.
*To contact Skubel’s fledgling company, search Niagara Student Painters on Facebook.