At 10, Skirpan's dynamite between the pipes

Grey­son Skirpan, an ice hockey goalie shows his gear in his North­east Phil­adelphia home, Thursday, Au­gust 16, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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.” ••

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