Frank and Greyson Skirpan are about as close as a father and son can get — except for who they root for when it comes to professional ice hockey teams.
Frank, the father, has decades of playing experience under his belt, including at Archbishop Ryan during high school. He is a Flyers fan, though he also admits to being a hockey fan first, thus not being as discriminatory when it comes to choosing sides.
Greyson, the son, is 10 years old and about to enter fifth grade at MaST Community Charter School. He has already been playing ice hockey for five years, spending the last three as a remarkably skilled goalie. Grey, as Frank and mom, Melissa, call him, has followed in his dad’s footsteps in almost every hockey aspect, except for the fact that he is a huge supporter of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers’ cross-state rival.
So what gives?
“Bad parenting,” Frank said with a laugh during a Friday morning chat in the Skirpans’ living room in Millbrook. “He liked the Flyers a bit at first, but because we’re hockey fans and watch all the games we can, he attached himself to Pittsburgh. We even went to a Flyers-Penguins playoff game, and Grey wore his Sidney Crosby jersey. Nobody bothered him, but people had some not-so-nice things to say to me.”
“During the playoffs, my dad put scotch tape down on the floor of the house to separate the Flyers side from the Penguins side,” Greyson added, wearing a 2009 Penguins Stanley Cup Champions T-shirt. “My room was on the Flyers side, and I was like, ‘How am I going to get in there?’”
The standoff didn’t last long, for both practicality and family bonding reasons. After all, Greyson is the Skirpans’ only child, so the family shares an incredibly strong bond when it comes to his ice hockey endeavors.
Greyson started out playing t-ball, but soon got bored after mastering the art of whacking the ball off the tee. Then, he gave foot hockey a try at age 5 and liked it enough to pursue the next step, which was getting out on the ice and learning to skate.
Greyson had watched his father play and wanted to follow in his footsteps. He started as a goal-scoring forward, but a sudden vacancy in between the pipes gave Greyson a shot to prove his worth as a goalie.
“My team needed a goalie, and my dad and I decided we would try it since we already had the equipment at home,” Greyson recalled. “At first he just said, ‘Go out there and stop the puck,’ and I just said, ‘OK,’ and I went and stopped the puck. From there, my dad taught me how to be a good goalie, which takes a lot of practice.”
Greyson first began playing goalie on his seventh birthday and has not looked back since. He started at the local YMCA, then switched over to the Grundy Grizzlies, an in-house hockey program with limited travel before graduating to the Grundy Senators, a full travel team that allowed him to play in New Jersey and New York.
Now, he plays for Team Comcast Youth Hockey Club, a program based in Pennsauken, N.J., that “prides itself on total player development — both on and off the ice, while maximizing exposure for our players to higher levels of hockey,” according to the organization’s Web site. The club fielded nine teams which combined for a .706 winning percentage during the 2011-12 season, and in the last four years 28 Team Comcast players have committed to Division I college hockey programs. Not only that, but Greyson has played with and against the sons of several current and former Flyers, such as Danny Briere, Keith Primeau and Ian Laperriere.
“It’s just really fun, playing in tournaments with your friends, getting to travel and stay up late,” Greyson said. “With Team Comcast I’ve traveled all over, to places like Detroit, Kentucky and Lake Placid.”
The latter was the site of the famous 1980 Winter Olympic “Miracle on Ice” game between the heavily favored Soviets and underdog Americans, which the United States won in a thriller. Playing in storied venues such as New York’s Lake Placid has certainly propelled Greyson to being ready for the big time, as he has also played multiple times during intermission at Flyers games at the Wells Fargo Center.
Most recently, he participated in the International Goaltending Competition in Orlando, Fla., finishing second overall in his age group while winning the obstacle course (measuring speed and skill) on skates in full goalie gear. At his age, Greyson is one of the top ice hockey goalies anywhere, which should help him in realizing his goal of becoming a professional hockey goalie. And yes, he’d like to play for his beloved Penguins, but he’d give the Flyers a shot, too.
“My favorite goalie is (Flyers backup goalie) Michael Leighton,” Greyson said. “They should have let (starter Ilya) Bryzgalov stay in Phoenix. He would have done the Flyers better there.”
Above anything else, ice hockey has bonded the Skirpans. Frank serves as Greyson’s personal goalie coach, and acknowledged to “pushing his son really hard,” especially when Greyson first started taking hockey seriously.
“The coach-father-son triangle is a dangerous one,” Frank said. “I just want him to enjoy it and get the most out of it. If he does, I hope he pursues it until it’s not fun anymore. He has a ton of talent, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my son. He can go places.”
Greyson, who also plays lacrosse, admitted that his dad “yells” at him sometimes, but not in a negative way.
“I don’t play because he wants me to. I play because I want to,” Greyson said. “My dad plays hockey, so he can help me figure out what I’m doing wrong and how to break bad habits. He just wants to make me better.”
To better characterize their relationship, Frank offered a different analogy.
“We’re like two girls going into a shoe store when we go look at hockey equipment,” he said. “We can relate to each other. And it’s not just me helping him. When I play, he’ll watch me and come over to the bench and tellme what I’m doing wrong. At 10 years old, the places he’s been and the things he’s seen…not a lot of kids get to do that.”
The busy travel schedule will not soon slow down for the Skirpans. Greyson’s Team Comcast season will begin next month and stretch through April, and the trio has to coordinate family events around Greyson’s hockey schedule, which is just the way they like it.
“I always tell Grey to reach for the moon. If you do that, the worst that can happen is you fall and land on a star,” Melissa Skirpan said. “I want him to reach for the moon and wherever he lands will be fine with me.”
And if it’s with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his dad will happily shed Flyers allegiances.
“He’s got a dream, and we’re going to support him as much as we can no matter what.” ••