Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Roberto Luongo dedicated plenty of his time toward helping out
understudy Cory Schneider throughout the 2010-11 season, but the 29
seconds he gave the former Boston College star April 5 were extra
With Schneider — a native of Marblehead, Mass. — just two appearances shy of the requisite 25 to get his name on the Jennings Trophy, as the Canucks already had wrapped up the No. 1 spot for goals-against average in the NHL, Luongo lobbied coach Alain Vigneault to ensure his goaltending partner got into action against the Oilers with just three games left in the regular season.
“It was pretty cool,” Schneider said of getting to share the award with his teammate. “I was aware that there was an award for lowest goals-against, but I didn’t realize how big a deal it was, to be honest. We knew about halfway through the year that it was within reach, and our goalie coach (Rollie Melanson) had a goal in my mind for how many goals we wanted to give up on the season. It became more important because it’s a matter of pride for the team.”
Luongo’s gesture was just another example of the brotherly bond the two have formed throughout their time together in Vancouver.
“For ‘Lou’ to go out of his way to mention that and be very willing to do so, that just speaks a lot about what kind of teammate he is and what kind of relationship we have,” said Schneider, who came on in relief and didn’t face a single shot from Edmonton during his brief cameo. “He could have just not mentioned it. For both he and coach Vigneault to feel I deserved it and I belong on that trophy, it meant a lot to me.”
Truth be told, Schenider truly earned it with his performance throughout the year. Since becoming a bona fide No. 1 a decade ago with the Panthers, Luongo has been an absolute workhorse, sparingly being given a night off. But year after year, perhaps from their star goaltender being overworked, Vancouver has flamed out in the postseason well short of its ultimate goal.
The Canucks needed not only someone who could give their gold-medal winner a breather but also a netminder who could be relied upon to win hockey games.
“I think that was a critical part of my role this year, to play,” said Schneider, who sported a stellar 16-4-2 record on the year and a 2.23 GAA — best among rookie goaltenders.
“They could’ve thrown me in for 20 games, but if I didn’t play well, it really wouldn’t have been a benefit to the team. I was happy to get in when I could and try to help the team succeed, and more importantly get ‘Lou’ some rest for times like this so that late in May he’ll be 100 percent and not had to have played 90 or 100 games.”
Heading into the postseason, Schneider had plenty of confidence if coach Vigneault needed him to come in, having had plenty of big-game experience prior to reaching the NHL ranks.
“I think it all helps,” Schneider said of his previous playoff ventures, having spent time between the pipes during the Frozen Four, the AHL finals and at the World Junior Championships. “I think playing in big buildings and pressure situations, it doesn’t matter if it’s the NHL, college or high school. You’re in the playoffs and you’re expected to win. It does get a little more magnified at the NHL level, but I think everything I went through in college, with Team USA and going to the Calder Cup finals in the American League a couple years ago prepares you for moments like this.”
Sure enough, after the Canucks’ 3-0 series lead over the Blackhawks had disappeared, Vigneault turned to his reliable rookie. Schneider made two relief appearances against Chicago before being tabbed as the starter for Game 6 with the Hawks looking to knot up the series.
“It was exciting,” the 25-year-old netminder said of
his first playoff experience. “I think it didn’t really
cross my mind that readily that I might go in, but he’s had
confidence in me all season. He sat us down and explained to us
that you need two good goalies to win in the playoffs. It was good
that he gave me that vote of confidence.”
While Schneider’s night didn’t end the way he’d hoped, as he left the game with the score tied 3-3 due to severe leg cramps in the final frame, the Canucks prevailed in the series with a Game 7 win before defeating the Predators in the conference semifinals in six games.
Prior to his team kicking off its series with the San Jose Sharks — a series the Canucks would win in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994 — Schneider said his family and friends have their fingers crossed that both Vancouver and the rookie’s hometown team can square off to battle for hockey’s Holy Grail.
“We have a tough test with San Jose, but I know a lot of people back home are pulling for a Bruins-Canucks finals,” he said. “My parents and my brother have been going to Bruins games, and they’re huge fans. Even my buddies who aren’t huge hockey fans and have just been caught up in the Bruins are pulling for the Canucks. It would be a lot of fun to see that and have that kind of final happen, but we have something more important to take care of first.”
Most athletes avoid getting too far ahead of themselves, so Schneider had no intentions of confessing whether or not he’d spend his day with the Cup back in the Bay State if the Canucks are victorious.
“It’s almost too incredible to think about,” he said. “You can’t really plan for it. I can’t get ahead of myself, so I think it’d be bad karma to think about it ahead of time.”
With Luongo in top form and a stud rookie — one who’s cemented his spot in the NHL this season — ready to step in if he falters, Schneider may have to cross that bridge sometime in the near future.
Benn Ferriero became the first player in NHL history to score a playoff OT goal on his birthday April 29 vs. the Red Wings.
Boucher loves Philly
After getting shellacked in the second round by the Bruins,
taking three of Philadelphia’s four losses (all of which saw
him get replaced by rookie Sergei Bobrovsky at one point or
another), Brian Boucher’s days with the Flyers might be
Originally drafted by the team back in 1995, the 34-year-old netminder from Woonsocket, R.I., just finished his second season in his latest stint in Philly. Bobrovsky got the bulk of the starts for Philadelphia this season, but the team turned to Boucher when the first-year phenom hit a wall in round one against Buffalo. But as good as Boucher was against the Sabres, winning all four games in the series, he was equally as bad against Boston.
“I love Philadelphia,” Boucher said. “I’ve been here three times. My kids are in school. They have friends here. As you get older, it’s always tougher to leave places.
“I fully understand how things go and the decisions that need to be made that go beyond Brian Boucher. I can’t take things personally and we’ll see what happens and plan accordingly.”
Often criticized for their lack of an elite netminder, the Flyers have come close to capturing a championship a number of times, but their three-plus decade drought continued this spring.
“Until somebody wins a championship here, there’s always going to be questions about the goaltending,” Boucher said. “If there’s anyone who understands that, it’s me. I’ve been here for some time and I know exactly how it works and I know what the expectations are.”
Boucher must now embark on unrestricted free agency after making $925,000 these past two years in Philly. While he could inquire about an opening with any team, it’s clear there’s only one he truly wants to play for.
Grier may call it a career
If this is it for Sabres forward Mike Grier (Holliston, Mass.), the former BU star has plenty to be proud of.
With 1,060 games and 383 points on his resume, as well as the distinction of being the second African-American to ever reach 1,000 games at the NHL level, Grier has proven himself as one of the most reliable depth forwards in the game throughout his time with the Oilers, Capitals, Sharks and Sabres.
The 36-year-old winger’s 2010-11 campaign, his 14th in the NHL, may wind up being his last if Buffalo elects to not re-sign him.
“For myself and for my family, that’s probably what it is,” said Grier, drafted 219th overall by the Blues back in 1993. “I’ve enjoyed it here; they’ve treated me well and I like playing with the guys. I’ve got some good friends and it’s a good team that has a chance to win, so that’s probably it. If I play again, it will be here. If not, that will probably be it.”
Jesse Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org