By Jeff Paterson
Top Canucks prospect Cory Schneider
has two decisions to make - one sooner than the other, yet the other is a little more important than the first. In the next day or two, Schneider, the Boston College netminder and Canucks first round selection in the 2004 draft, has to decide who to root for when Vancouver makes a rare visit to his hometown to face the Bruins.
"My dad and I got tickets, so we're going to the game. We'll see who I cheer for, but I can't go wrong either way, I guess," Schneider says with a laugh over the phone from Boston, admitting he still has mixed emotions about his favourite NHL team. "You know, I grew up with them (the Bruins) for 20 years so it's hard to root against them. But it'll be a great game either way. The Canucks haven't signed me yet, so I still have some loyalties elsewhere."
Schneider is well aware of the fact that eventually he'll have to cut his ties to the Boston area when he decides to turn pro. And that's the other decision he has to make. As a junior, the 20-year-old has another year of college eligibility remaining beyond this season. But he's starting to sound like a guy itching to test himself at the next level.
"There definitely will be a decision to make. Vancouver kind of kicked the tires this past summer to see how I was feeling and I felt pretty confident I wanted to come back to school this year for sure. I think it's worked out very well because there were some points this year where I've kind of struggled with my technique or my consistency and I've been able to work through it. It's a better environment here as opposed to being in Manitoba and perhaps getting lost and discouraged," he says of returning to school. "But next year definitely. I haven't made any decisions yet. I'm going to see how the second half plays out and where I stand from a development standpoint and I think once I assess all those pros and cons I think there definitely will be a decision, but I can't really guarantee anything either way right now." WORK HARD, PLAY HARD
One thing Schneider can guarantee is that he's ready to play and play often. He's been a workhorse for the 7th ranked Boston College Eagles playing all but seven minutes of his team's 15 games so far this season. He's 9-5-1 with a 2.30 goals against average and a 92.0 save percentage. Three of his victories have been shutout wins including a 28 save effort on the road against #2 Wisconsin and a 34-save performance in a 1-0 win at cross-town rival Boston University.
"I've been playing similar to our team. It's been up and down. We kind of play up to our opposition, we've had some good wins, but we've lost a couple of games we probably shouldn't have lost. It's all about focus for myself as well as for the team," he says. "Perhaps I get more excited for the better teams and maybe lose focus for the weaker games and that's something I really need to work on because I feel I can be better than I have been so far. I think that's an encouraging sign because I think I've put up pretty good numbers, but numbers that I think I can improve upon so I think that bodes well for the second half."
A year ago at this time, Schneider was in Vancouver backstopping Team USA to a fourth place finish in the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championship. It was the first of two visits to the city last year as he returned in August to spend a week working with Canucks goaltending consultant Ian Clark, all part of the team's monitoring of Schneider's development.
"It was great to get out to the city and see it in the summer time and get a better feel for it because it was all business during the world juniors. It was great to get to know Ian and work with him, he was fantastic," Schneider says. "I talk to Stan Smyl a lot. He actually came to a game at BU about three weeks ago so I was able to catch up with him afterward. And I talk to Ian maybe once a month and he's just checking on my progress. They do a pretty good job, but they leave me alone at times which is nice." CANUCK AT HEART
While the Canucks give Schneider his space to concentrate on his work on the ice and in the classroom, he finds time to check up on them. Despite the three hour time difference, the goalie of the future admits to staying up late to catch the occasional Canuck game on television.
"If I can catch a game late at night then I'll definitely watch especially now that Luongo is there. You know, he's one of my favourite goalies to watch and it's great to watch him and learn a thing or two," says Schneider, one of the most-interested observers of the pre-draft deal that put Luongo in the position he one day wants to earn. "I wasn't terribly surprised that they picked up a goalie because I knew they had been looking for one. I wasn't sure if they were going to get one of Luongo's magnitude. But as I told Stan Smyl this summer, it's impossible to get mad at them for making an acquisition like that. If you can get the best goalie in the game, I don't think anyone's going to blame you for that. I certainly have no problem with it and I think anyone would have made that move in their situation."
And Schneider knows that as much as hockey is a game, it's also big business, and what exists today won't necessarily be the same tomorrow. That's why he's not too worried about his spot in the Canucks pecking order right now.
"A lot can happen over four years - he (Luongo) could be traded or they could re-sign him in which case maybe they'll have to do something with me. I wasn't too concerned about the trade because I think it's more important to continue developing and get better as opposed to worrying about where I'm going to be."
This much he knows for sure. On Thursday night, Cory Schneider
will be at the TD Bank North Garden watching the Canucks and Bruins and deciding who to cheer for. And then sometime next summer, he'll have that other decision to make - whether to turn pro and join the Canuck organization or return for his final year of college hockey.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org