Except this time, for the first time, they will do so as opponents and not as practice partners. It’s their first meeting since the Vancouver Canucks shocked both goalies by keeping Luongo and trading Schneider to the New Jersey Devils this summer, ending a nearly two-year soap opera in the Canucks crease and setting up this early-season showdown between two guys who will be compared to each other the rest of their careers.
Luongo, who lost his No. 1 job to Schneider early in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and struggled this summer to wrap his head around the trade that kept him in Vancouver, isn’t dwelling on the past drama.
“No, not at all, I am just looking forward to playing against my friend,” Luongo said. “That’s what it's all about for me. I want to win, I want to play a good game, and just enjoy being at the other end of the ice from Cory just like every other day in practice when we were here.”
That Luongo and Schneider became close friends competing for the same job for three years in a hockey-crazed market like Vancouver says a lot about both. For the Devils it was the perfect audition for Schneider’s new job in New Jersey, where he is expected to play with and eventually take over from future Hall of Fame member Martin Brodeur.
From taking the job from the best goalie in Canucks’ history, to trying to replace arguably the best ever in the NHL, it hasn’t been an easy career start for Schneider.
At least his time in Vancouver prepared him for New Jersey.
“It wasn't an easy situation for him or for me at times,” Schneider said of the past two seasons. “We both wanted to play and both felt we were capable of playing, so there were times where the other guy might not get in for a couple of games, or you might not get in, and you just had to stay positive. We just respected each other and have a good friendship and we believed in one another, so whoever was playing we were comfortable with that and it made it a lot easier to rally behind the guy. We had to deal with a lot last year. He never wavered in his support for me, which was pretty impressive.”
Their Canucks teammates sympathized with the situation.
“It didn’t affect me a whole lot, but I know it was hard on Roberto and Cory,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “A lot of pressure. If you had one or two bad games, you had another guy behind you ready to take your job. It’s a tough way to play. It made our team stronger to have two great goalies to rely on, but certainly for them it was tough.”
Schneider admits he is still working on building his relationship with Brodeur, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner who leads the NHL all time in wins (669) and shutouts (121), but will turn 42 next May.
“He’s pretty confident and comfortable where he is,” Schneider said of Brodeur. “He is playing well and seems like he is having a lot of fun, but he is a competitor. He doesn't like to lose. We’re not sure how it's going to shake out. It's still early, but from the looks of it he is going to do everything he can to play as many games as he can and so am I.”
Luongo has long said, even when they were competing for the job, that Schneider was ready to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.
“He is already one of the best goalies in the League and he deserves to start,” Luongo said again Tuesday. “Unfortunately right now he’s in a situation where he’s not able to do that, so I kind of feel for him in that way, but obviously his time will come, he just has to wait. He has obviously been through it before and he knows how to deal with it and what to expect. That being said, I’m sure he wants to be No. 1.”
Luongo is also sure Schneider can handle his current role.
“You know right away the backups that are more selfish and trying to root almost for you to fail so they can take the job, but Cory wasn’t like that,” Luongo said. “That’s why it was so easy to become friends with someone like that. Instead of going against each other, we would push each other to be better and help this team win games.”
How often Schneider gets to help the Devils win games this season remains to be seen. He got New Jersey’s season-opening start after an outstanding preseason, but stopped 18 of 21 in a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and watched Brodeur play the next two, including the home opener and a 5-4 shootout loss in Edmonton on Monday night that set Schneider up to start in his return to Vancouver.
No matter what happens, Schneider said he won’t get frustrated.
“If there’s one word I have learned to just ignore it is frustration,” he said. “I’ve never tried to be frustrated in my career. It just breeds bad habits and bad energy, and it just doesn’t do you any good to be frustrated or angry about a situation you really don’t have a lot of control over. The only thing you do have any control over is how you play, and you think if you play well enough and deserve to be in there you will get there, but if you don't, then you don’t. I’m not concerned about labels or titles. I am more worried about proving to my new teammates I am capable and a guy that can be counted on.”
Schneider already proved that to the Canucks, who all talked Tuesday about expecting a tough time scoring against him and the Devils. Vancouver players were also unanimous in hoping the meeting marked the end of the Luongo-Schneider questions.
"I wish it was, but I have a feeling it’s not," Luongo said with a smile.
For Schneider, the questions now just involve a different goaltender.
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