A New Jersey native, Julie has a degree in journalism and sport management from the University of Massachusetts and has covered the NHL, NCAA and IIHF events for the past eight years. You can find her on Twitter at @JulieRobenhymerIt's easy to think that some people are simply lucky, but Cory Schneider learned very early on that with hard work and dedication, you can create your own luck.
Twelve years ago, Cory Schneider was a highly regarded high school goalie for Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. He had made it to USA Hockey's national select festivals representing Team Massachusetts as a 14, 15 and 16-year-old where he would be seen by various scouts and coaches and put him under consideration for the fledgling National Team Development Program.
Based in Michigan, the NTDP is where the best 16 and 17-year-olds in the country train together for two years culminating in representing the United States at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship. Schneider played well enough to earn a try out, but was not invited to join the program.
Disappointed, he went back to Massachusetts determined to improve and be ready the next time opportunity knocked.
"Sure enough, a year later when they had to go to the Under-18 World Championships, their goalies were either hurt or they weren't too happy with how they were playing. I was in boarding school and they called me up and said, 'Hey, do you mind coming to play for us in this tournament?'" Schneider explained. "Of course I said yes. That was the last big tournament before the draft so it was a big moment for me because a lot of scouts hadn't really seen me play being in a prep school in Massachusetts."
Concerned about him missing too much class time, he had to beg the powers that be at Phillips Academy to let him go, but he soon joined the NTDP for two weeks before heading over to Belarus for the tournament.
"He was a well-spoken kid with a good head on his shoulders," said John Hynes, head coach of the New Jersey Devils who was also the head coach of that team. "You could see he had great character as a human being and, as a goalie, he played great under pressure and was a big, big part of our team and even overachieved a little bit to help us get to the gold medal game."
Team USA eventually lost in the championship game to Evgeni Malkin and Team Russia, but Schneider would take that experience – and more importantly, the real life example that luck is simply preparation meeting opportunity – with him throughout his career.
"It's funny how many things have to go into you having success and having the opportunities to succeed. You might be lucky, but you also have to be good and have some support along the way," Schneider said.
Drafted in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks, he'd go on to play at Boston College for three years, helping the Eagles get to two national championship games, before signing his first professional contract with Vancouver.
"You come a long way in a few years. You show up at 18 and you don't know how to eat right. You don't know how to study. You don't know how to train. Personally, the college route was great for me and allowed me to develop as a person as well as a player. I look at these 18-year-olds who play in the NHL right away and I think back to when I was 18 and I had trouble finding what building my classroom was in!" Schneider said laughing. "I was really lucky I took the path that I did and people were patient with me and gave me the time I needed to become a better player. I wasn't rushed or hurried or put into a situation where I was bound to fail."
After spending three years developing in the AHL, Schneider earned the opportunity as a full-time back up to Roberto Luongo and three years after that was pushing to take over as the starting goaltender.
"I was there to take his job and become the number one goaltender. That was my job," said Schneider. "We were friends and teammates and supportive of each other, but at the end of the day, you want to be the number one guy. Now that I'm older, I see it now with younger guys like Keith Kinkaid. While it's nice to see them succeed, I don't want it to be at the expense of my job. So, that's a big motivator to keep going and be the best that I can be."
After the shock of being traded to the New Jersey Devils two years ago, he embraced the opportunity to earn a full-time starting role at the NHL level and add to the legacy of what it means to be a Devil.
"I was excited. It's a team that's always been thought of as a difference maker in the NHL. They're not just any other franchise. They're the New Jersey Devils. They've won Cups and have set the tone in how you play the game and run an organization. They've been trendsetters in a lot of ways.
"To be part of that is great and they may not be an original six team but they have just as much history and tradition as other teams that have been around a lot longer," said Schneider. "I wanted to add to that and do the best that I can to help the team win."
That desire to do his best was fostered in his hometown of Marblehead, MA where he and his older brother, Geoff, would do battle.
"I'd do anything I could to keep him from scoring...anything," Schneider said with a smile. "He's the reason I started playing hockey. I watched him and his friends play and saw how much fun they had and said, 'You know what? I'm going to play that too!' I don't give him credit for a lot of things, but I will give him that."
Even now that he is an elite goaltender in the NHL, his desire to improve and be the best is as strong as ever.
"I don't think I know everything about goaltending. I don't think I have everything figured out. You watch these younger guys coming into the league and they're doing things I never learned." Schneider explained. "Things might work for you for a while, but the game changes and you have to adapt. I'm always open to try new things and improve my game. The goal is to never be complacent. I'm tough on myself. I'm always trying to improve and get to that next level."
Heading into his third season in Newark, Schneider spent most of his summer focused on being more consistent in regard to puck handling and rebound control.
"As a goalie, you have to have this poise and calm about yourself. You have to create this air of security for your teammates that you're going to be there to make that save and I feel like the easier you make it look the more comfortable your teammates are," he explained. "I just try to go out there and set the tone in the net and work as hard as I can to let them know that I'm going to be there every single night and they can rely on me that if they make a mistake, I'll be there to bail them out and make the save. I think that's why I enjoy the pressure of being a goalie. I trust myself to do that job and my goal is for my teammates to feel the same way."
Schneider also spent the summer putting down roots in New Jersey with his wife, Jill. They bought a house where they welcomed their first child, Wyatt, earlier this week.
"Before I came here, all I knew about New Jersey was the traffic on the Turnpike, but there's a lot going on here," he said. "Part of the reason I made the commitment to be here for another six years is that I believe in this organization and this area and this community and I want to do whatever I can to be a part of it.
"I'll always be from Boston, but New Jersey is my home now. This is where I'm going to spend the majority of my time and where I'm going to raise my family and it just makes you want to make bigger strides and be more involved. My wife and I want to help make the Devils a feature point in this city, where people are proud to say, 'I root for the New Jersey Devils. They're my team!'"
Schneider has spent the better part of his 29 years creating his own luck and doing his best to be prepared for whatever opportunities come his way and that includes being a leader for the Devils on the ice, in the locker room and in the community.
"It won't happen overnight, but I'm hoping to make a big difference both on and off the ice and make sure the Devils are a team you can be proud of."
A New Jersey native, Julie has a degree in journalism and sport management from the University of Massachusetts and has covered the NHL, NCAA and IIHF events for the past eight years. You can find her on Twitter at @JulieRobenhymer