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Mathieu Schneider no longer 'underappreciated'

by Dan Rosen

The United States Hockey Hall of Fame will induct four new members on Thursday during a ceremony that includes two Lester Patrick Award winners. This week, profiles the six people to be honored.

The first two words Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch thought of when asked about former teammate Mathieu Schneider were "underrated and underappreciated." Hall of Fame forward Brett Hull chose "undervalued."

It was telling how Schneider's former teammates saw him, and the respect they have for him.

"He was definitely overlooked as far his overall talent level and importance to his team," Leetch said.

Schneider will get what many believe to be his just due when he is inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Boston.

Schneider played for 10 teams, including twice for the Montreal Canadiens, during his 20 seasons in the NHL. He won the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1993 and was a part of the United States' winning team at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. He played in 1,289 games and had 743 points, including 223 goals. He scored 100 goals on the power play.

"Not so much in style, but his presence reminded me of Nicklas Lidstrom because he went out and he did his job, he played very well," Hull said. "He could shoot it, defend, play with some toughness, but you never really were just in awe of what he did. You never said, 'Oh my God, look at those moves.' He would just go and he'd play. He was almost an afterthought, but at the end of the game you would go, 'Wow, he played good.' That was Mathieu.

"He's a rock-solid guy that I would want in my top four all day long."

Schneider said he came into the NHL on a full-time basis in 1989 with offensive instincts and skating ability. He said he wouldn't have lasted more than a few seasons if Canadiens assistant coach Jacques Laperriere didn't teach him how to play defense.

"He taught me everything that I knew and applied in the NHL," Schneider said. "He was the guy who taught me how to play in the NHL."

Schneider stayed in the NHL because he played well. He might have moved around so much because he was opinionated and unafraid to say what was on his mind.

He was traded seven times and left unprotected in the 2000 NHL expansion draft. His longest run with a team came at the start of his career, when he played five-plus seasons with the Canadiens. He didn't have a stint longer than three full seasons with any other team.

"I would say in a lot of ways I was my own worst enemy," Schneider said. "I was influenced an awful lot at the beginning of my career by some tremendous leaders in Montreal. The one thing that that group of players really taught me is, we stick up for one another, whether it was on the ice or sticking up for one another if a coach was picking on a player, riding a player particularly hard. That's something I carried with me throughout my career.

"I think at times, it caused friction with coaches when I voiced my opinion and I thought they were being particularly hard on a certain guy or group of guys. I wouldn't do it any different, but there were certainly cases where I asked to be traded or I was traded because of conflict.

"Ironically, I think that suits me for the role I'm in today."

Schneider, 46, is defending players and fighting for their rights as the special assistant to the executive director with the NHL Players' Association.

"I don't think he minds what other people think about him," Leetch said. "He's looking at things from all different angles, and if someone has a different opinion, that doesn't bother him, but if what he thinks could have a positive impact, he'll tell you. He will stand in front of people and give a smart opinion regardless of what that room is saying to him or saying about him. Half the guys are afraid to say something, and others say things just to be heard. That's not him."

Schneider was not known as a big talker on the ice or in the dressing room. He was a player who went on the ice and did his job well.

"He was sneaky good," former U.S. national teammate Jeremy Roenick said. "He reminded you of a guy who [stood] on the boardwalk but then could throw on some skates and just go play. He was so nonchalant and so talented beyond his own recognition. He just loved to play the game, but he was so smart. He had a big shot and he wasn't afraid. He was so smart that he didn't put himself in trouble. That's how good he was."

Schneider, who grew up in New Jersey and Rhode Island, also was that good for the U.S. World Cup team in 1996. Although he played behind Leetch and Chris Chelios, Schneider was considered a steadying force on the blue line and scored two goals in seven games.

"If you were playing against him, he wouldn't be a guy that you would say, 'Keep an eye on him,'" Letch said, "but the next thing you know he's got two assists and he's out there on the power play ripping slappers. Some of the teams he played for had some bigger names ahead of him, but he just kept playing and was up there with big minutes and out there at key times."


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