VANCOUVER -- "Don't fear failure. Compete 100%. Enjoy the process. Play for others."
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 1.02 | SVP: 0.969
Cory Schneider has been writing that message inside the top of his blocker, just above his right wrist, since his days at Boston College. For the second-year Canucks' goaltender, it's a reminder of what's important, an easy-to-access mental tip that has come in handy before – and sometimes even during – big games.
The mantra has served Schneider well through consecutive trips to the NCAA championship game, a couple of World Junior Championship tournaments with Team USA and a run to the Calder Cup Final in the American Hockey League in 2009. It was still there, written on masking tape, when Schneider arrived as the Canucks' rookie backup last season, though the frequency with which he referred to it has decreased over the last two seasons as he established himself as a rising star in the NHL.
It remains there today – stitched in neatly now – and as the 26-year-old prepares for his third straight playoff start ahead of incumbent No.1 Roberto Luongo, and his second in a row with the Canucks facing elimination, there's a good chance Schneider glances down at his blocker before Vancouver's Western Conference Quarterfinal against the Los Angeles Kings resumes with Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC).
"Sometimes, yeah, it can help," Schneider said after practice Friday. "I have a lot of things I do to help keep myself in the moment, and that's one of them."
It would be easy to forgive Schneider if this moment overwhelmed him. But if there were ever a sense among his teammates and coaches that it might, there is no way the Marblehead, Mass., native would be starting another elimination game ahead of Luongo, who leads the franchise in all-time wins and shutouts, and led the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final less than 10 months ago.
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He has a calming influence on the team," said Daniel Sedin, whose return from a March 21 concussion helped spark a 3-1 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. "When you have a guy like that, you're going to relax and play good as a team."
Vancouver sure didn't look relaxed facing elimination in the first period of Game 4, but Schneider held them in by stopping 12 of 13 shots, giving the Canucks a chance to find their legs and take over the final 40 minutes. If Schneider felt any pressure with the season on the line, he didn't show it. In doing so, he delayed its end.
"Pressure is a little bit self-manifesting, it's what you make of it," Schneider said. "If you let opinions and other people get to you and get in your head, then it's going to create pressure. But if you just go out there and enjoy the moment and play for your teammates and yourself and family and friends, it becomes fun."
With just one goal against in each of the last two games, and 62 stops on 64 shots for a.969 save percentage and 1.02 goals-against average, Schneider looks like he is having fun. Like a duck on water, however, he admits the mental feet are moving a little more below the surface than he lets on. And Schneider embraces it.
"Everyone is always a little nervous, but it's just excitement. It's not fear. It's not uncertainty," he said. "It's just a big stage and you want to do well, you don't want to fall on your face. Fear can be a big motivator and make you play well."
Schneider has been playing well – and doing so against Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles' 26-year-old Vezina Trophy candidate – since high school. They played big games against each other at prep school, again in college with Schneider at BC and Quick at the University of Massachusetts, in the AHL, and now for the first time in the NHL. Quick knows what his Kings are facing.
"You knew he was a great goalie back then," Quick said after practice in El Segundo. "He's a guy that has always done well at every level. … We played each other in high school, college, American League and now National [Hockey] League. … We've played in some good games against each other."
They're all big now, but Schneider feels more ready for them -- in part because he got a taste of the playoffs last season, but more because the Canucks prepared him for more action this postseason. Forced out of a surprising first postseason start in Game 6 in Chicago in the first round last year early after giving up two goals on misplayed pucks and cramping up while giving up a third on a penalty shot, Schneider was given key starts against big rivals this season, helping him get ready for the playoff pressure cooker. And Vancouver split the starts over the final six weeks of the season, ensuring both its goalies were in rhythm now.
It's that preparation, more than the title games in high school, college or the AHL, that has Schneider feeling so much more prepared and comfortable now.
"A lot more," Schneider said. "It's helped me deal with pressure situations and deal with nerves and expectations and what I expect out of myself."
If he forgets, Schneider just needs to look down at his blocker for a quick reminder.