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12 Questions for CORY SCHNEIDER

12 Questions for CORY SCHNEIDER

Photo by Bruce Lowe (left, right), courtesy New Jersey Devils/Andy Marlin (center)

dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Canadians, Russians and Swedes may have cornered the market on NHL superstars, but the United States has been turning out a steady stream of homegrown game-changers for more than a generation now. On any given night, in fact, you’re likely to see an American in goal for a half-dozen (or more) teams. As of this writing, no NHL goalie had played in more games than New Jersey’s Cory Schneider, whose New England hockey résumé includes starring roles for Andover as a high-schooler and then Boston College. Schneider’s signing of a long-term deal with the Devils signaled the end of the Martin Brodeur era, and marked Schneider’s ascent into the small club of elite net-minders in pro hockey. Radius Editor Mark Stewart visited with Cory after a January practice to get his take on life in the Garden State.

radius: One great thing about New Jersey is that you don’t have to live here too long before the state claims you as its own. Has that been your experience so far?

Schneider: Yeah, for sure. I’m from the East Coast originally, from Boston, so coming down to New Jersey, it’s a little different but also similar in terms of the northeastern mentality and lifestyle. We feel very much at home here and everyone we’ve talked to has been really nice. My wife and I are both very comfortable with the move.

radius: Have either of you mastered the Jersey accent yet?

Schneider: No. My wife and I have the Boston accent, so for now we’ll stick with that. The New Jersey and New York accents are pretty unique. It’s part of what gives this area its character and is a big part of the culture and community.

radius: How are you finding the fans?

Schneider: They’re great. During the games they make a lot of noise. And when I’ve encountered them off the ice they’ve been very polite and very excited. So New Jersey has been a great place to be the last year and a half.

radius: I’ve heard it said that everyone in New Jersey has a little hockey player in them—they just can’t skate.

Schneider: [laughs] Hockey is definitely a sport that resonates with working people, so it tends to have a very broad appeal. It’s a fun game to watch. It’s a good fit for the East Coast attitude.

radius: Have you started exploring Newark at all?

Schneider: Oh, yeah. This is a really unique place. The Ironbound area has some very good restaurants. The city is great and the venue is great, and it’s really at the epicenter of a lot of big markets and population areas. It’s such a natural place for people to meet and eat and go to all sorts of games and non-sports events. I plan to get to know Newark better this season. Being here for the next seven years, we’ll get involved in a lot more programs. Youth hockey is definitely one of those. My wife is already volunteering with the animal-rescue community in Newark and Jersey City.

radius: You split time with two of the best goalies in recent NHL history in Vancouver and in New Jersey. What does a young goalie learn from veterans like that as he moves toward the #1 role?

Schneider: Since becoming the #1, I haven’t really thought a lot about the time before that. I’m focused on going forward. But I do know that, as a young goalie, I was fortunate to be in that position. Having learned from both Marty Brodeur with the Devils and Roberto Luongo with the Canucks, I was very fortunate to be able to watch them and see their preparations and habits, how they carried themselves, and how they approached the game mentally.

radius: You helped take Boston College to the NCAA championship game twice in a row. Did you find that the transition from college to the minors was easier than the transition from the minors to the NHL?

Schneider: It’s interesting how the two transitions differ. Oddly, from college to the minors was probably harder. You get into a certain mind-set as a college athlete. And then, in the pros, it’s a job. You take it seriously in college, but you’re also having fun and experiencing college life. When you turn pro, it’s all you do—there’s nothing else. You have to gear your mind to hockey 24/7. It took me almost a year to do that. Moving up to the NHL is difficult, but in many ways the adjustment is actually easier. Your teammates are better. You get more support.

radius: Your style is very athletic for someone 6’2”—even a casual fan would notice that. And it seems you have a knack for being in the right place a half-beat before everyone else. Is that something that’s always been true, a function of your natural ability?

Schneider: It’s the result of a lot of training, thousands of hours of repetition, and a lot of muscle memory where you don’t have to think about it anymore—your body just does it. There’s a reason goalies take a little more time to develop. They really need the experience. You need game time. You need to see a lot of shots. You need to recognize how situations develop. When you see something unfold for the 30th or 40th time, you have a much better idea of how to approach it than the first. If you were to equate it to other sports, it might be similar to a quarterback. You need the reps and you need to process information in your head to make the game slow down. And of course, you need great coaching all the way through, which I’ve had.

radius: When you see a kid in goal, can you look at him and say Wow, he’s going to be a good one?

Schneider: No. Talent definitely is something that has to evolve. I’ve done a lot of goalie camps back in Boston where I worked with younger players. Every kid is now doing the same things we do in the pros, starting at around age 10. I didn’t learn some of the stuff I do now until I was 14 or 15. All the kids in camps today look really good. So you need to see them in game situations, see how they handle adversity, rather than just observing them in practice.

radius: Kids are also specializing a lot sooner in one sport.

Schneider: Yes, that’s right. I grew up playing soccer and baseball. I know it’s harder to do that now. Kids are starting at such a young age and specializing in that one sport. I think I saved a lot of wear and tear on my knees and hips by not really doing a lot of butterflying until I was 13 or 14. Young goalies are starting that now at 8 or 9, and doing it thousands of times. It’s got to wear them down. Also, I think it’s good to have athletic skills you develop in other sports. You might not use baseball or soccer skills much in hockey, but hand-eye coordination, anticipation and read-and-react are all very vital. So I found my involvement in different sports to be very positive.

radius: My last question is to you as an Andover grad. My father, father-in-law and boss all went to Andover. Sometimes during a complex conversation they look at me like I’ve had a head injury or something. Are you guys really all that smart?

Schneider: Some of us are [laughs]. Maybe not me. There were some very impressive, bright people there. Andover was an experience that, at the time, I don’t think I appreciated as much as I do now. It was hard. I’m glad I did it and I’m better for it, but I don’t know that I’d want to do it again. Although it did make college easier.

radius: So it’s my own insecurity.

Schneider: Yes…mostly.

Editor’s Note: Mark Stewart has written a team history of the Devils for Norwood House Press and, two decades ago, co-authored a children’s book for Grolier with a young goalie named Martin Brodeur. In Mark’s one and only game of organized hockey, at age 12, he played goalie…and quit the sport that night.