EDMONTON — The goaltending drama became so overdone, so excessive in Vancouver last season, the Canucks instituted a new rule for media covering the team: For the first time in National Hockey League history, there would be no access to the backup on game days. While it’s customary around the league for starters not to speak at morning skates, with the Roberto and Cory show it was the other who went silent on game days. It was a protocol that was an outcome, not a symptom, of the madness that was the Canucks goaltending soap opera.
Another, more desired result is 27-year-old Cory Schneider; wise beyond his games played, whose time in the Vancouver frying pan makes him the perfect candidate for the fire of succeeding Martin Brodeur in New Jersey. He is poised, mature, and handles himself admirably in front of a bank of microphones. And he believes he learned from the hurricane that was playing in Vancouver last season. “It’s something we were forced to deal with. That’s just life playing hockey in Canadian cities,” Schneider said Sunday afternoon in Edmonton, where he will watch Martin Brodeur face the Oilers on Monday before getting the start against the Canucks on Tuesday in Vancouver.
Brodeur was actually sitting with friend and then backup Johan Hedberg at the draft when Lamoriello unloaded the ninth overall pick to Vancouver for Schneider. “I was thinking, ‘okay, how is this working here…,’” Brodeur said. “I looked at (Hedberg) and you could tell right away. He knew. What could you say to the guy?” So, instead of “The Moose” facing his old team Tuesday—he was released from a tryout with the New York Rangers in September—it’s Schneider, a return that will have the media Richter Scale off the charts on the lower mainland. But Schneider can handle it.
For a goalie who will notch career game No. 100 Tuesday, Schneider has reams of experience, graduating from one Canadian Olympic goalie to another. By osmosis, he has learned to carry himself with the confidence of an elite goaltender. “They’ve both been through a lot, seen every circumstance, been through every situation. They’re kind of unflappable,” he said. “I learned a lot from Roberto. The way he dealt with some situations there that were fair, or unfair. He’d put on a smile and do what was best for the team. That’s not easy to do—especially for a guy who has accomplished as much as he has, and has as much pride as he has.”
Before Schneider tugged on his new Devils jersey, he had relieved one Olympian of his starting NHL job. Then, as if the culture shock of going from Vancouver to Newark wasn’t enough, he became the successor to the next, a walk-in Hall of Famer to boot. “He’s our future,” Brodeur said. “I won’t play forever.”
The Devils have a stunning 22 sets of back-to-back games this season, and, at age 41, Brodeur doesn’t do both ends anymore. So it plays to script to have Schneider go Tuesday, but it will be a media frenzy regardless. Yet Schneider appears prepared. “We’re there less than 24 hours,” he said. “Gotta play a game, gotta win a game. I’m not going to get all nostalgic.”
Although he’s never had to do it himself, to Brodeur—and Devils head coach Pete DeBoer—starting Schneider versus the Canucks was obvious. “They made him No. 1 and they traded him,” Brodeur said. “I’m sure in the back of his head it’s like, ‘C’mon. We’re all went through that circus, and I’m the one leaving?’”
Sitting in the stands at Rexall Place watching DeBoer run his charges through their paces, wily general manager Lou Lamoriello smiles the wide grin of a man who couldn’t believe his luck when the goalie he’d sought for years suddenly became available at the draft in Newark. The asking price of Edmonton’s No. 7 overall pick, a second-rounder and a prospect in return for Schneider was too rich for the Oilers’ tastes, leaving Schneider on the market for New Jersey with their ninth overall. Canucks GM Mike Gillis wanted Bo Horvat, Lamoriello had watched Schneider since his Boston College days, and a deal was consummated.
Replacing Brodeur had gnawed at Lamoriello—he’d been mulling over the move for most of the past three years. He had the luxury of patience, though. Every time he thought it was going to become a necessity, Brodeur would defy his age and play like he was 10 years younger. And Lamoriello knew he needed a special netminder, one with a similar makeup to Brodeur. “Our team is used to a goaltender who doesn’t get rattled, doesn’t blame people, and is as low maintenance as you could possibly get,” he said.
And as competitive.
When asked about facing their former team in front of their former fans, most goalies would toss out the predictable platitudes about playing within themselves and how they’re facing the shooters, not the goalie. Not Schneider, he can’t wait to face down Luongo. “Sure I am,” he said when asked if he was looking to make statement.