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CLIMBING THE LADDER

Flames goalie prospect Nick Schneider made strides after splitting last season with the AHL Heat and ECHL Mavericks

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

The opening credits were, by any criteria, undeniably spectacular.

Imagine being seated on a chair lift on a picture-postcard-pretty late September afternoon, rising from the base at the Mutianyu section to the majestic string of watchtowers spaced strategically off as far as the eye can see along the Great Wall of China.

"I was hanging out with Smitty, James Neal, a few guys," recalls Nick Schneider.

"We're going up the side on the chair lift to the Wall and I had a couple of pizzas we'd bought sitting on my lap. Eating pizza on the Great Wall of China … now that's pretty cool.

"I was really happy about how everybody took me in on that trip, accepted me. I was kinda the only young guy. You're a little nervous.

"It's something I'll cherish for a long time and I have all my stuff from China - photos, the little souvenirs - on a shelf at my parents' house."

Returning home from the O.R.G. NHL China Games experience and into reality, Schneider's season would mirror that memorable, touristy trip scaling one of the astounding wonders of the world - his rise being to Stockton of the AHL, and then trip back down again, to Kansas City of the ECHL.

 

 

"Definitely not a typical year for me," acknowledges the Leduc-born/Calgary Hitmen-trained goalie, soon to turn 21 and entering his second full pro campaign. "A lot of moving around.

"I learned a lot more than I thought I was going to. I thought I had a pretty good half, then it kind of went up and down.

"After I returned to Kansas City from Stockton, I kinda started having a tougher time, around January. After getting sent down, your focus is on getting back there as quickly as possible to show you can play at that level. I guess it's only human nature.

"But you can't do that.

"I'm not going to lie - you never want to get sent back down. When you do, it's tough, mentally. Maybe you don't play as well, then you start sitting a little bit and learning about the pro game. It's not junior anymore, where you know you're playing every night.

"So you have to deal with it.

"There were moments when I felt I had a lot of success and then, especially in the second half, I struggled.

"The last month in Kansas City, though, I felt I finished strong, started to figure out some of the issues from the end of December through January.

"I'm sure those will help me moving forward."

Not only the day-to-day acclimation of the pro lifestyle but the qualitative stylistic differences between the two leagues played a part in the fluctuations.

Schneider's Stockton numbers - a 6-3 record over 11 starts with a 2.45 GAA - are actually better than those he posted at K.C. - 7-14 W/L and 3.66 GAA.

"In Kansas City," he says, "the game's a little different. It's a bit more scrambly in the East Coast League. Teams use three lines, not four. There's more structure in the AHL, so I was seeing a lot less looks than my time in Kansas City. When I first went up, I thought: 'Wow! I'm facing a lot less chances. Just keep everything in front of me.'

"When you go back to (the ECHL) it's difficult to re-adjust."

 

 

Not an uncommon phenomenon, says Flames' goaltending overseer, Jordan Sigalet.

"You see a lot of goalies who have a hard time playing in the Coast play well in the AHL. Same thing with guys moving from the AHL to the NHL. (Jordan) Binnington, for instance. Cal Peterson - his numbers in the AHL were horrific this year, then he comes up (to the L.A. Kings) and plays a number of great games because there is even more structure and the game is more predictable.

"That's not an excuse. It's just reality.

"Going up and down, you lose a bit of rhythm, as well. Nick's in Kansas City, playing on a consistent basis, then he gets called as a back-up and not playing games. It's tough.

"Similar to what (Tyler) Parsons went through last year.

"But when Nick did play in Stockton, he had the best numbers of any of our goalies last year. The main thing for him was to play as much as possible and continue to take steps forward."

With that in mind, Schneider is spending the summer in Edmonton working out, making the trek south a couple of times per week to huddle with Justin Cardinal of Evolution Goaltending.

"I'm like, well, as long as I learned from the experience and don't let it happen again, I'm all right with what happened,'' reckons Schneider. "I'm a better professional now than I was a year ago at this time. I know that.

"I understand you can't have one foot in one team and one in another. You can't play in Kansas City and always be thinking of Stockton.

"You can't focus on two things at once.

"If you do, then everything suffers.

"Obviously going into camp, I want to play in Calgary. Whether you're in this organization or any NHL organization you always want to be at the top.

"You understand that there's a developmental part to it, too. I just want to keep climbing up the ladder, show I can play, and wherever I do play, I want to be counted on and help the team win."

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