It’s been three years now since Martin Brodeur packed up his gear, his 688 career wins, 124 shutouts and three Stanley Cup trophies and moved on to St. Louis. It’s all Cory Schneider’s net to mind now.
There’s no need for Schneider to look over his shoulder to see if Brodeur is lurking. He can look above his head at the Prudential Center to see Brodeur’s No. 30 sweater hanging from the rafters.
Now in his fourth season with the New Jersey Devils, Schneider has become the identity of the team, the heart and soul of the franchise and the one that Devils faithful count upon, more than any other, to keep the team solvent and competitive.
With a seven-year, $42 million contract that began last season tucked away in his pocket, the 30-year-old Schneider is secure in the knowledge that he will be the main man between the pipes for the Devils for years to come.
“I feel the pressure, but in a good way,” Schneider said after a recent practice. “I don’t want to let the team down. I made the decision to stay in such a great place. I hope to be here for the remainder of my career. I owe it to the fans here to do my best and to make them proud.”
Schneider can finally feel this season that the Devils have a good shot to qualify for the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in his stint with New Jersey.
“I like this group,” Schneider said. “It’s a good group of guys. The organization has injected some youth and talent this season and it’s beginning to pay dividends. We can be threatening and dangerous. But we’re not going to get away from what we do and what has been our identity. We’re going to play defense and if we’re playing up to our capability, we can be a real dangerous club.”
Schneider said that he hasn’t given much thought to his predecessor and what he achieved in his 20-year career with the Devils. A statue of Brodeur now stands outside the Prudential Center, the final honor given to perhaps the best goaltender the NHL has ever seen.
“Honestly, I haven’t thought about replacing Marty for a long time now,” Schneider said. “My first year here, I felt that responsibility on my own. But now, I’m comfortable here. I’ve felt comfortable for a while now. I think ownership made that kind of commitment to me, shown me that kind of faith. I have to be able to give everything back to them.”
Schneider is coming off his best season to date. He posted a 2.15 goals against average and won a career-high 27 games with four shutouts. However, Schneider’s play has dipped a little this season, as he won just nine of his first 21 games with a 2.83 goals against average and no shutouts.
“I know what I can do,” Schneider said. “I know I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch lately, but I can turn it around. I know the expectations are high. It would be nice to play well again. We started off the season well. I’d love to get back to that.”
Needless to say, it’s been quite a while since Schneider was first introduced to USA Hockey. It was 2003-04 when he was selected to play for the National Team Development Program as a high school senior at Phillips Academy in his native Massachusetts. While playing for the NTDP’s U.S. National Under-18 squad that season, Schneider posted a 9-1 record in 10 games and a 1.61 goals against average.
“It was a little surreal back then,” Schneider said. “I grew up in a region of the country where USA Hockey was every kid’s dream. It was a really big deal when I got the call. You go to a tournament where everything was regionalized, team New England, team Michigan, and then you take the best of the best for the national team. That was the pinnacle, putting that USA jersey on for the first time. It was an amazing experience. I couldn’t believe I got selected.”
Schneider said that the call to the NTDP more than a decade ago helped him tremendously.
“You have to remember that I was just a kid from Massachusetts,” Schneider said. “But that really helped my confidence and pushed me to the next level.”
Schneider played for several teams representing the United States. He helped the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2004 IIHF U18 Men’s World Championship. He also played in the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships donning the red, white and blue sweater.
“I’ve had a couple of opportunities now to represent the country,” said Schneider, who was also selected to participate in the World Cup of Hockey for Team USA last summer. “Not everyone gets that chance, so it’s a great honor.”
Schneider played sparingly in the World Cup, seeing action in just one game.
“I take that responsibility with great pride,” Schneider said. “There’s a lot of competition for that team, especially at goaltender. It’s a thrill that I’m part of it. I just do what I can for the best that I can.”
Schneider enjoyed a great three-year stint at Boston College, helping the Eagles to the NCAA title game in consecutive years after being selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round (26th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft. Schneider elected to turn pro in 2007, signing an entry-level contract with the Canucks.
In his first full season with the Canucks, Schneider and goaltending partner Roberto Luongo won the William M. Jennings Trophy for having the best goals against team average in the NHL. But after spending five seasons as a backup to Luongo, Schneider was dealt to the Devils for the No. 9 selection overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Now he’s entrenched in the nets in New Jersey, and if he continues his career trajectory, he’ll be there until they raise his No. 35 to the rafters alongside his predecessor.
“I love to help our team play well,” Schneider said. “I love it here. We all have one goal in mind. We want to get to the playoffs.”
The Devils once had a streak of 18 straight playoff appearances. Now, they’ve missed out on the NHL postseason for the last four years.
“Some of the results we’ve had in recent years haven’t been great,” Schneider said. “It’s on us this year. We have to get the job done and it’s a challenge I know I can handle. We have it in mind now and I’ll just do what I can to help.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.