Stacked against the rest of the goalies in the AHL, Manitoba's Cory Schneider
Tossed into a Moose practice, he's just another face in the crowd.
Funny how that works. Good thing Schneider is the first one to laugh about it.
The second-year goaltender is 16-2 and leads the league with a 1.61 goals-against average and .940 save percentage for the North Division's first-place team. Schneider has needed every glint of that sparkle to keep up in the Moose rotation.
Manitoba already had reliable vet Karl Goehring
(2.59, .903). Then Vancouver demoted Curtis Sanford
, who won his first two games with the Moose. With goaltending, three never goes into one very easily.
''It's just all of us in a tough situation, but we're all good guys,'' Schneider said. ''Whoever's in the net, we're going to be supportive. It's more of a problem for coach (Scott) Arniel than anybody.''
Some of Schneider's humility might come from his recent shot with Vancouver, a trial he readily admits he fell short on. In eight games, he went 2-4-1 with a 3.38 GAA and .877 save percentage. Schneider, a 2004 first-round pick, may be very close to NHL-ready, but those last couple of steps are the toughest.
''It was a bit of an eye-opener," he said. "I had some good games and some pretty bad games. They gave me a couple of chances to take the net and run with it, but I wasn't able to deliver. I obviously have a lot to learn at that level. They are in a playoff race. They don't have the luxury of letting me learn as I go.''
So Schneider's education continues at the expense of the AHL's shooters. Even in showcases, Schneider doesn't give an inch. At the league's All-Star Classic skills event Jan. 25, Schneider set an AHL record with 18 stops on 19 shots to earn the Top Goaltender award.
When the competition returns to its fiercest level -- the battle for playing time with Goehring and Sanford -- Schneider figures to be just as tough.
''I'm not going to change anything just because another guy (Sanford) is here,'' he said. ''Every time you get the net in the game it's incentive to own it and prove you should be playing. You could be the odd man out at any moment.''
The glory of Rome
-- With a 6-foot-1, 225-pound build and a growl that could bend a crossbar, Syracuse Crunch defenseman Aaron Rome
looks every ounce the part of a custom-made, classic defensive defenseman.
He plays the role well, but it's one he evolved into as his career got going. His roots run to the offensive side of the position, and Rome's recent return to them has made the Crunch very happy.
Not too long ago, Syracuse had three of the best play-making blueliners in the AHL in Jonathan Sigalet
, Kris Russell
and Clay Wilson
. But Sigalet is done for the season with a shoulder injury, Russell retooled his game and was recalled to Columbus and Wilson was traded to the Atlanta organization.
So Rome, already logging massive minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill, was turned to as a power-play quarterback and defensive puck-mover. In 10 January games, Rome has 3 goals and 7 assists, increasing his season total to 23 points. That's two points shy of his pro career high, but not really a surprise to the five-year veteran.
''Things have been going well lately," Rome said. "Everybody thinks they can play in different roles.''
Turns out Rome, 25, has evidence that he actually can. He produced 56 points with Swift Current in the Western Hockey League in 2002-03 and 51 combined with Swift Current and Moose Jaw the next season. When he turned pro with the Anaheim organization the next season, he was nudged toward a more conservative style.
''You have to be pretty exceptional to be an offensive defenseman in the pros,'' he said. ''It (playing more conservatively) was different. You have to find a way to adjust. I was just happy to be playing pro. You just have to do what's asked of you. Your other capabilities will show through time.''
"I'm not going to change anything just because another guy (Sanford) is here. Every time you get the net in the game it's incentive to own it and prove you should be playing. You could be the odd man out at any moment." -- Cory Schneider
Rome will be glad to raise his hand for more grunt work in his own end if it means starting the proving cycle over again in the NHL.
''Hopefully I can go to the next level and start over again, be a defensive defenseman,'' he said.
Q&A with Andrews
-- AHL president Dave Andrews took questions on a wide range of topics before the league's All-Star Game on Monday. Some of the highlights:
* Austin, Texas, is looking good as a potential 30th franchise next season. The team would be affiliated with Dallas. The catch is Andrews said no one is interested in selling an AHL franchise now. Edmonton has an inactive franchise, but wants to hold onto it.
* The notion of scaling back the regular season from 80 to 72 games still has some support among owners, but has been put on the back-burner for now. Andrews said some owners are concerned about how they'd recoup the money lost by the reduction of four home games.
* The issue of where the Philadelphia Phantoms will play next season still is being worked out. The Spectrum, the Phantoms' home, will be torn down after this season. There have been some rumblings that the team could relocate to Glens Falls, N.Y., site of a former AHL franchise.
* Andrews said in terms of revenue, the AHL is off about 3.5 percent from last season. ''When you consider that consumer spending is down somewhere in the area of 7 percent, retail sales are down somewhere near 7-8 percent, we are more than holding our own,'' he said.
* The league is examining safety issues in fighting, most notably whether players should keep their helmets on during fights. The AHL plans on getting feedback from and following the lead of the NHL on any initiatives in this area.
* A handful of AHL teams are pursuing the feasibility of holding an outdoor game.
Around the AHL
-- Grand Rapids' 1-0 win against Quad City on Jan. 24 was the Griffins' fourth straight OT game, a first for the franchise since Jan. 14-21, 2004. Griffins goalie Jimmy Howard
passed Joey MacDonald
to become the club's' all-time leader in saves (4,275 to 4,251), marking the third statistical category in which Howard has claimed the top spot over MacDonald this season (167 to 164 in games played; 9,540:09 to 9,208:13 in minutes played). ... A couple of Hamilton defensemen hit milestones in the team's 5-3 victory against Binghamton on Jan. 24. Yannick Weber
's goal was his 10th of the season and placed him in a four-way tie for most goals by a Bulldogs blueliner in one season, and Dan Jancevski
recorded his 63rd career assist with Hamilton, tying him with Ron Hainsey
atop the franchise's all-time list for assists by a defenseman. ... San Antonio kicks off its annual rodeo road trip Saturday. The Rampage will play 13 games in 25 days that includes visits to 12 different cities in eight states and spans 6,526 miles. ...Wolves center Steve Martins
recorded his 100th career AHL goal at Hamilton on Jan. 23. ... Philadelphia has allowed 628 shots in its last 15 games, for an average of 41.9 shots allowed per game. The Phantoms have not outshot an opponent in a period since a 16-12 advantage in the second period of a 4-3 shootout win at Hershey on Jan. 17, a span of 13 periods. ... Albany's Michael Ryan
and Ryan Weston
scored two goals in the shortest span of the season -- eight seconds -- Jan. 23 against Binghamton. ... Starting Feb. 4, Binghamton plays 10 straight Wednesday games to close the 2008-09 regular season.