When Jason Fortier was hired as the head coach general manager of hockey operations for the Odessa Jackalopes last April, that give him a chance to fill an open assistant coaching spot. After interviewing several candidates, Fortier eventually made his way back to a player he once coached.
Fortier worked with a then-19-year-old Nate Skidmore at a spring tournament in 2015 and took note of Skidmore’s maturity and ability to relate to younger players. Fast forward to July 2020 and Fortier tabbed the now-25-year-old to be the Jackalopes’ assistant and goaltender coach.
“Getting to know him just for that short time, you could see that he was very focused,” Fortier said. “Pretty professional, quiet and focused on what he could control.”
Skidmore has been able to build up his resume both as a player and coach. The Syracuse, New York native played at the Junior A level and collegiately at The State University of New York at Potsdam College. He recorded 1,306 saves and a .897 save percentage as an NCAA goalie.
He also doubled as a student strength and conditioning coach and personnel director at SUNY Potsdam before making the jump as a volunteer coach at Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
When presented the chance to learn under Fortier, Skidmore said the opportunity to coach alongside him was too good to pass up.
“You want to learn from the best and he’s had a track record of success,” Skidmore said. “You want to see what makes someone like that successful and the team successful that he has.”
Over the past eight months, Skidmore has learned a number of lessons being an assistant on a North American Hockey League team. He’s found it easier to connect with the players at his age.
“It sometimes feels like they’re little brothers, but at the same time you have to be that authority figure over them,” he said. “You’re more of a role model in the sense that you can’t stoop down to their level of friendship.
“With that gap being so small, I still see life through a similar lens but now it’s just trying to help them in the right direction.”
Skidmore also got some head coaching experience with the team, taking over the helm for four games after Fortier was suspended after an argument in a series against the Wichita Falls Warriors in late February. Fortier mentioned the brief suspension as the best thing that happened to Skidmore this year.
“Those were the four games where he realized that everything that’s in books, everything that you talk about, write about, go to conferences about is only a small percentage of how success is built,” Fortier said.
That time period also helped Skidmore see the game from a forward’s perspective, something he wasn’t used to seeing as a goaltender. He also got a lesson in how to handle dealing with factors out of his control that come during live-game situations as a head coach.
“You see both the yin and yang there where you see the controllable chaos, but you also see the uncontrollable chaos,” Skidmore said. “You realize that you have to make good decisions to be successful and bad decisions will hurt you, but at the same time you can’t control everything.”
Moving forward, Fortier wants to see Skidmore expand on his love for the game he is coaching saying that his future in the profession is what he chooses to make it.
As for Skidmore, he says he hopes to one day become a collegiate head coach, a dream that began when he coached other goaltenders as a 16-year-old back home in Syracuse.
“I love the college hockey game, but it’s awesome being in the trenches in junior,” Skidmore said. “That’s where you’re going to get your players from in college and you see what it takes to develop those players to be at that level.”
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