There really hasn’t been a time in Andrea Skinner’s life where the ice
wasn’t part of her story.
She skated for the first time with her twin sister Jennifer when she was
two, got into ringette when she was six, made the move to hockey at 10,
went off to prep school at 16, played four years in college, was a coach
during law school and officiated at some of the biggest events on the
women’s hockey calendar.
Now, the 36-year-old Markham, Ont., native has made her biggest splash –
she is the youngest member of the new-look Hockey Canada Board of
Directors, a role she is ready to jump into with both feet.
“It's another outlet for me to give back to the game that's been so
important to me throughout my life,” Skinner says. “Hockey Canada's mission
is to lead, develop and promote positive hockey experiences. That's
something I believe in wholeheartedly. [With] my past athletic and
leadership experience, along with my work ethic and my decision-making
abilities, I thought it would make me a strong voice on the board.”
Her story starts like so many others across the country – with family.
The Skinners are a brood of eight, with Andrea and Jennifer the oldest of
Andy and Elisabeth’s six children, followed by Erica, Ben, Jeff and
Jillian. Hockey was more than a game; Skinner calls it a “fundamental part
of the culture” for the family, and games and practices became family
“It was the meals we shared,” she says. “It was going to the vending
machine or the concession stand, playing mini-sticks in the hallways of
rinks throughout the province. My dad built a rink for us in the backyard,
so we spent a lot of time out there during the winters.”
And the game has treated the family well. In addition to Andrea’s exploits,
Jennifer and Jillian followed Andrea to the NCAA, Erica and Ben played
Canadian university hockey and Jeff is in his 11th NHL season with a
handful of international experiences to his name.
After her brief foray into ringette, Skinner made the move to hockey as the
women’s game began to explode in Ontario in the early 1990s, buoyed by the
success of Canada’s National Women’s Team and the 1990 IIHF World Women’s
Championship in Ottawa.
While the first experience was a little bit of an awkward one – “I went on
the ice with the puck and I'm trying to bat around this little black disc
and it was so different from the ringette stick and ring,” she says –
hockey quickly became a labour of love.
At first, though, it was just one of many. Skinner was an accomplished
multi-sport athlete, holding an age-group national swimming record in the
100-metre breaststroke and playing soccer with Team Ontario. Her athletic
abilities earned her a scholarship to Choate Rosemary Hall, a prep school
in Wallingford, Conn., and then on to Cornell University.
“[She was a] strong, strong leader, but a quiet leader,” says Melody
Davidson, the legendary women’s hockey coach who was Skinner’s bench boss
at Cornell for her first three seasons from 2002-05. “I just enjoyed having
her around. She was calm, really insightful, easy to talk to and just a joy
It was at Cornell (where she was captain in her senior season) that Skinner
fine-tuned her community-service skills, volunteering with the Big Sister
Little Sister program and helping foster community engagement among
student-athletes with a school-wide competition she created.
Graduation from Cornell meant the end of her competitive days as a player,
but she was far from finished with the game. Enrolling in law school at the
University of Ottawa, she joined the coaching staff of the women’s hockey
team and began to officiate.
“It was a way to stay involved in the game, give back, make some money
while I was in law school [and] take my mind off of my books for a while,”
Skinner says of donning the stripes. “When I started it, I wish I had
started it sooner. I probably would have been a better player and coach. I
think there are so many things that officiating can do in terms of
She quickly became one of the best officials in Ontario, earning
assignments as a referee at the Clarkson Cup and Esso Cup, and as a
linesperson at the U SPORTS national championship and National Women’s
Under-18 Championship, among many other events.
Add up all the experiences, as a player, coach and official, and it makes
sense Skinner would want to keep giving back to the game.
“Hockey was a teacher at so many different levels,” she says. “Hockey is a
team sport, but individual performance within the context of the team is
critically important. That's something that was ingrained in me from a
young age. I learned the importance of structure, the importance of rules
from a young age. It taught me how to cope with injury and setback and
adversity, how to deal with winning and losing, success and failure. Those
are things in life that are just so important.”
Today, she is a partner with Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, working with
the firm’s municipal and land use planning group and chairing its diversity
and inclusion committee.
“[Law is] a service industry and I've always been driven to serve people
and to serve my community,” Skinner says of why she chose to be a lawyer.
“I like the critical thinking and the high-pressure environment and the
decision-making that's required of being a lawyer.”
Those are also skills that will serve her well with the Hockey Canada Board
“She’s very insightful,” Davidson says. “She has always had the ability to
look at things from a number of different viewpoints and rarely gets locked
into a narrow view. I feel like that’s always a great attribute to have
when you're on a board or you're part of a bigger decision-making team.”
With a new mandate that required at least two women sit on the board,
Skinner jumped at the opportunity when a call for applications went out
In November, she joined Leanne Standryk and Mary Anne Veroba as just the
second, third and fourth women to earn a seat on the Hockey Canada board.
(Karen Phibbs was the first, serving from 2013-15.)
“The board should be reflective of our society and the people that
participate in our sport, and those that should be given an equal
opportunity to participate,” Skinner says. “For me, diversity isn't just
about quotas or numbers. When I think of diversity, I think of diversity of
thought, experience [and] leadership styles, and those things can't be
underestimated in terms of their ability to influence the game and to
challenge thinking, eliminate barriers, challenge existing norms and
expectations, and overcome bias and inequality. Those are the things that
any organization needs to strive for.”
While the 2020-21 season has been a challenging one with the COVID-19
pandemic affecting the game at every level and in every corner of the
country, Skinner is excited for what the future holds as hockey evolves to
its new normal.
“The first step is to get people back on the ice and remembering the game
that we've always loved,” she says.
“At the end of the day, the game is the same game that we've always known.
I think it's only going to get better in terms of giving more people the
opportunity to play in a way that makes sense for them.”