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Schneider finishes junior career with busy season between Hitmen pipes ... and now he's off to Stockton to further his development

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Hearing the numbers - processing the sheer volume of workload - the everyday relentlessness of it all, even someone as willing to take it on as Nick Schneider might need to resist an overwhelming urge to go take a power nap.

Seventy-nine games played.

Four thousand, three hundred and sixty-five minutes of on-the-job toil.

Two thousand, one hundred and fifty seven pellets faced, only 209 of those finding an avenue behind him.

The Grant Fuhr '95-96 campaign, his first with the St. Louis Blues, ranks as a kind of touchstone modern-era Ironman turn.

Eat your heart out, Robert Downey Jr.

"Wow," laughs Schneider, the recently-graduated Calgary Hitman goaltender. "Just … wow.

"That's … crazy.

"I mean, I remember Cam Talbot playing something like 71 recently.

"But that, 79 … that's insane.

"Now that's busy."

And Nick Schneider knows busy.

Having just concluded a 61-appearance (franchise record), 3,491-minute (franchise record), 1,866-shot, 1,651-save (franchise record) season himself, the rights-holding Flames requested he hook up with their top minor-league affiliate Heat rather than head off to, say, Oahu or the nearest indoor driving range.

The 20-year-old didn't so much as bat an eye.

"Actually, I was kinda hoping I'd be able to go down to Stockton, get on the ice, work with the goalie coach (Colin Zulianello), have another opportunity to show what I can do at that level,'' confesses Schneider, on the phone from Winnipeg, where Stockton is awaiting the second end of a two-in-three-nights doubleheader against the Manitoba Moose at MTS Centre.

"So I was pretty happy when I got the call. 

"Any time you can be around the pro game coming out of junior can't hurt.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the individual players, and the group as a whole, interacts, how they get things done."

Whether or not the kid from Leduc receives any playing time for the postseason-hunting Heat is still to be determined. Very much in the playoff hunt, Jon Gillies will continue to be heavily relied upon.

Still, with a five-year junior career at an end, and full indoctrination into the pro game visible on the horizon, the experience should prove invaluable.

"The mindset,'' explains Flames' goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet, "was, with Jon getting the lion's share of the work, to get Parse (Tyler Parsons) and Made (Mason McDonald) back to Kansas City and playing. Will (Schneider) get in? I don't know. This is more about development.

"This is about Nick being able to work with Colin, get some additional on-ice, be around new teammates.

"We still see lots of upside in Nick. His numbers in the Dub maybe weren't great but he played a lot and we believe there's a talent there. He needs to mature. Next season, he'll probably start out in the East Coast Hockey League and grow from there."

Not exactly a total stranger to Stockton, Schneider worked nine games for the Heat back in 2015-2016, going 4-5 with a 3.92 GAA, prior to his trade to the Hitmen from the Medicine Hat Warriors.

"It's cool,'' says Schneider. "Just being in this type of atmosphere can only be beneficial. Obviously (the Hitmen) didn't make the post-season so it'd be nice to get in and try and do some damage here.

"I'm taking it day-by-day. I've been working with the goaltending coach, Colin, and the strength coach. It'd be nice, that's my goal, to get in a game. But I can't control that, all I can do is focus on pushing as hard as I can to make it happen.

"Obviously they've got a lot going on as a team now."

While Schneider's GAA (3.70) and save percentage (.894) this season were admittedly not to the level he'd envisioned, his workload and the team situation were obviously factors.

"The way the schedule is set up in junior you're able to ride guys more, playing pretty much only on weekends,'' reckons Hitmen goaltending coach Jason LaBarbera, a 16-year pro at the position.

"As the year went on, I kinda kept waiting for him to come and tell me he was tired or a little bit sore but he never did. I think it was good for him. I think he learned lot about himself.

"As a 20-year-old goalie who's signed, you kind of expect him to be able to do it. Whether he can or not, though, you don't know.

"Now he knows."

If not exactly fresh-as-a-daisy, Schneider insists he never considered the burden too much; felt like the ragged end of nowhere. 

"Jason did a really good job this year managing my reps in practices, and even in workouts, knowing how much I was going to play in the next week or two.

"They made sure everything made sense.

"Obviously, playing that many games there were days I had to get myself up to play. But I'm just really thankful that going out of my junior career I was able to play that many games, go battle with my buddies and try to win hockey games."

Given a stockpile of goaltenders inside the Calgary system at the moment, patience - on everyone's part - is apt to be paramount.

"The development period will be slow-moving," reckons LaBarbera, "which I think is a good thing for him. He won't be thrust into situations he isn't ready for. Say he ends up in Kansas City, he'll get games and there'll probably be another young guy there with him. That first year is always tough because you're playing with older guys, higher expectations but also for the first time in your life you're living on your own. No billets or parents holding your hand anymore.

"Great kid, for sure. He still has some stuff to learn in terms of pushing himself. Actually, in that he reminds me of me at that age. You feel like you're working hard but you're still a little unsure of how to push yourself, get yourself over that hump.

"A lot of it is being able to trust yourself, understanding how hard it is you actually do have to work and pushing through that. But that's all part of learning and maturing."

"At the end of the day, when you turn pro it all ends up being up to you."

Which is fine by Schneider.

"I think I'm ready for the pro game," he says. "I played my five years in the Western League. While I'm here, the next month or hopefully longer with playoffs, I just want to soak everything up that I can. Keep learning.

"This summer's going to be especially huge for me. Getting stronger is a priority. I'm kind of a lanky guy. So I want to get stronger but still stay mobile.

"There are a lot of good goalies out there and you want to earn a job. The pro game is obviously faster. A lot faster. So I'm going to need to start processing things quicker on the ice. But at the same time stick to the way I play."

Wherever suits the Flames, suits the goalie.

"Obviously,'' he acknowledges, "I'm not used to the up-and-down. You see it on social media, guys going team-to-team, league-to-league.

"I remember what Jason LaBarbera told me last summer when I first met him: Doesn't matter where you're at, if you're playing well and you're stopping pucks, someone's going to recognize that and you're going to have a job.

"You always want to move up, but if that's not in the cards right away then you've just gotta keep persevering.

"That's the plan. Stop pucks, wherever I'm put."

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