By Ross Forman – T.J. Skipper was a freshman captain last season for the Neuqua Valley JV2 team that ultimately lost to the Cobras for the Hayes Championship.
“We had a very good season and did really well, going from starting off slow to making it all the way to the finals,” said Skipper, 15, now a sophomore who lives in Naperville. “I’m really thankful that my coach thought that I was worthy of being captain; I tried every game to motivate everyone in the locker room and on the bench.”
And no one is more motivating than Skipper, who usually plays right defense.
Skipper was born with retinoblastoma (eye cancer) and lost his right eye when he was 21 months old. Yep, he’s been playing with half his sight.
“I never knew what it was like to see with two eyes. For as long as I can remember, this is how I have seen. I don’t remember ever being able to see through my right eye,” said Skipper, who played his youth hockey for the Naperville Sabres.
“It has impacted me on the ice because it really taught me to get my head up and look around. Obviously, I need to do that anyway, but it adds a bit of incentive to keep my head up. I also have needed to adjust to checking to my right side often to make sure that no one is in my blind spot.
“In school it hasn’t really affected me that much since I have great vision in my left eye. I am in a few honors classes, so I do well in school.”
Skipper is motivated himself, too. “I want to prove to others that just because I only have one eye, I can still do everything they can do. I get good grades, am athletic, can play the guitar, and I do all of this and more to prove to others that I can do everything just as well, if not better, than others.”
Skipper has had one major eye surgery and many EUAs (exams under anesthesia) to make sure he is still cancer-free. He also has had several MRIs and CAT scans over the years.
“I have had to get used to checking to my right more often in hockey and while driving compared to others. I have overcome these obstacles by training myself and making it a habit,” he said.
Skipper is optimistic for the 2020-21 season – for the team’s success and his personal improvement as a player. For instance, he’s working to improve his shot from the point, “so I can score more goals,” he said.
“I am a defensive defenseman on the ice. Whenever I’m on the ice and we’re in our defensive zone, I always try to block the shot.”
Scott Farnaus, NVHC JV Head Coach said, “Having the honor to coach T.J. has been truly a privilege. His coachability, accountability and simply being a great teammate makes him a huge asset to our organization. He earned his captain’s “C” last year from teammates and coaches and proved to be a true leader. Practice and game efforts are 100 percent. He is always pushing his teammates to be better. T.J. looks for advice from the coaches on how he can improve his performance as well. He’s a special player to always try and bring his fellow teammates up! On the bench, when they are “shrugging their shoulders” or “down on a play” he’s their support system. Off ice he loves having fun and playing around. He always has something positive to share. It’s very difficult to be in a bad mood around T.J.! It never lasts long! All true aspects of a great human and future leader.”
SLAPSHOTS WITH … T.J. SKIPPER
Favorite Hockey Memory: “A tournament in Holland, Michigan last year. My team played really well, and we all hung out at the hotel and at the Wing Stop next to our hotel.”
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Duncan Keith – “He always plays hard and motivates the team by stepping up when needed. He also blocks a ton of shots, which I always try to do.”
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Football
Favorite Pro Athlete: Khalil Mack “He plays hard every down.”
Favorite App: YouTube
Favorite TV Show: South Park “It was one of the first TV shows I remember watching.”
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: “That depends on what time the game is at. If it is an early game, I have three scrambled eggs with a bowl of fruit, bacon, and orange juice. If it is a later game, I usually eat the mostaccoli with meat sauce from Portillo’s.
Celebrity You’d Like to Meet: Eddie Van Halen. “I play guitar and he is, in my opinion, the greatest guitarist of all time. I already met Sammy Hagar who was one of the singers in his band, so I would really like to meet Eddie Van Halen.”
Best Hockey Tip: “Play my game and not worry about other people. Just play hard and try.” – Jeremy Roenick
Teammate Who You Could See As a Coach: Goalie Tyler Ithal.
Hardest Slapshot on Your Team: Ryan Baer
Most Accurate Shot on Your Team: Nick Agne
Fastest Skater on Your Team: Keith Rohzon
Best High School Jersey (other than Neuqua Valley ): DuPage Stars
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.