Center Catie Skaja helps the Gophers stay relaxed and happy

Skaja has scored four goals this season, with a scoring touch of late.

Katie Skaja handles the puck on Friday, Oct. 19 at Ridder Arena.

Jerusa Nyakundi

Katie Skaja handles the puck on Friday, Oct. 19 at Ridder Arena.

Erik Nelson

If the Gophers need a laugh, center Catie Skaja can provide one.

When she’s not using her speed to create scoring chances, she’s helping her teammates stay loose and happy by telling jokes and saying words she doesn’t understand.

Head coach Brad Frost said center Kelly Pannek helps Skaja learn new words.

“Pannek is doing the ‘word of the day’ with her,” Frost said. “She’s expanding her vocabulary.”

Right winger Amy Potomak is in a psychology tutoring group with Skaja and goaltender Sydney Scobee. She said Skaja makes her laugh constantly.

“She’ll make jokes in the moment,” Potomak said. “She’ll always make you giggle and smile.”

Skaja currently plays on Minnesota’s fourth line along with Abigail Boreen and Kippin Keller. On Nov. 24, Skaja scored in Minnesota’s 6-2 victory over Vermont while playing on the first line with Pannek.

Skaja said although she was intimidated at first, she enjoyed playing with Pannek. “She helped me a lot,” Skaja said. “She calmed me down. If I made a mistake, she [said], ‘Hey, try this instead.’ She never criticized. She’s always positive and [she] helped me be the best I can be for that line.”

Skaja played a key role in Minnesota’s 3-1 victory over Yale on Saturday. She assisted on two of Minnesota’s three goals, including Keller’s game-winner. Skaja’s two multi-point games this season have come within the last three games.

Pannek said one aspect of Skaja’s game that gets overlooked is her technical skills.

“She’s always in the right spot,” Pannek said. “She’s always in those opportunistic positions. I’ll always know she’ll be in the front of the net somewhere. I don’t know if she realizes how technically skilled she is. She’s a workhorse.”

Skaja scored her first goal against Minnesota-Duluth on Oct. 5. She has scored four times this season. While Pannek considers her to be a technically gifted player, Skaja said she is more of a grinder — someone who will do the dirty work to generate plays.

“I like to make plays,” Skaja said. “I’m not a big shooter. I use that and help my teammates. Everyone is always going to come with something different.”

When she isn’t making her teammates laugh, Skaja is putting in hours of work during practice and in the training room. Frost said Skaja is easy to coach because she is able to play on different lines without any issues.

“[Skaja] is one of the most coachable players that we have,” Frost said. “She works hard. She puts her head down. She’ll do whatever she can to help the team.”

Potomak said having players remain happy and loose correlates to positive performances on the ice.

“It puts everyone in a good mood,” Potomak said. “When you’re happy and you’re having fun out there, that’s when you’re playing the best. Having someone on the team who has that ability to make people smile and make people laugh is somebody you want to have during games.”