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Friends & Foes: Penn State, Michigan State goalies share lifelong bond

By Ashley Chase

UNIVERSITY PARK -- When Big Ten foes Penn State and Michigan State faced off at Pegula Ice Arena last weekend, it wasn't the first time goaltenders Matt Skoff and Jake Hildebrand shared a sheet of ice. The two grew up outside Pittsburgh and have been playing hockey together since they were 11 years old.

As serious young hockey players develop, they leave often leave home to play junior hockey as teenagers. That's what Skoff did in 2009, leaving his home in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, for the United States Hockey League's Sioux City Musketeers. That's where he met Mike and Ruth Aguirre, who served as his billet family for the next three seasons.

"They step in and play a big role, letting you come into their house not even knowing you," says Skoff. "That says something about their love of hockey and what type of people they are to let someone into their house and just take care of them."

The Aguirre family has billeted for 13 years, taking 45 different hockey players into their home over that span of time. Ruth says they stay in touch with most of those players and have been invited to a number of occassions over the years, from hockey games to weddings.

A year later it was Hildebrand's turn to head for junior hockey, and he was reunited with Skoff in Iowa.

"Matt was a little bit older than me, he was pretty established in the league," says Hildebrand. "I wanted to follow him as my mentor and do the things he was doing because he was so successful."

Now that both goaltenders play college hockey in the Big Ten, it was the perfect chance for the Aguirre's to see them both play, travelling one-thousand, one-hundred miles from Sioux City to State College.

"Coming to visit my school, hours away through a flight, I can't wait to see Mike and Ruth and give Mike a big hug after the game," smiled Skoff.

As any mother would talk about her sons, Ruth says, "Which one should I cheer for?"

"You want them both to succeed yet you know there's going to be a winner and a loser," says Mike. "No matter how much competition there is on the ice, these two still support each other."

While the Aguirre's can't pick a side, the friends behind the masks say it's a battle for bragging rights.

"You go home over the summer and guys always ask, did you play against each other?' Hildeband continues, "last year he beat me, little bad taste in my mouth."

"Every time I step on the ice I want to be better than him and I want to beat him," says Skoff. "I think it's good for us, it brings the best out of both of us."

A goaltending brotherhood, with support from the Aguirre's. A hockey family like no other.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times