Solving a standout goaltender is a difficult art to master: It takes precision and a tremendous amount of effort for the opposing team, though his own teammates should have a better idea of how to sneak the puck by him in practice. To the frustration of many of his fellow Eagles, however, this is not the case for Boston College’s Cory Schneider.
The BC junior prides himself on being close to perfect in practice and carrying that attitude and skill into games. His teammates struggle to score on him almost as much as opposing teams. But, when the other Eagles beat the first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, they make sure that he is well-aware.
“That’s the funny thing; whenever we score on Cory, we’re always celebrating and stuff, because he doesn’t let in a lot in practice,” joked teammate and close friend Mike Brennan.
Schneider responded: “All the guys let me know when they score on me. They don’t let me get off the hook ever. It’s very competitive. It’s a fun little rivalry, but we all push each other.”
It’s not by accident that Schneider has become one of the elite goalies in college hockey. He works tirelessly to perfect his game, and makes himself not only a better hockey player, but a better athlete every day. And that is something that his teammates notice and respect in him.
“As a player, every day in practice, he comes to get better. He’s focused. He’s always taking extra shots, he works out after practice. He wants to be a player; he wants to be an athlete,” Brennan said about Schneider’s work ethic.
Schneider has a bright future, as he continues to progress and develop as a player, but he often opts to focus on the present — and the present is a good place to be right now, as the Eagles embark on their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four in search of BC’s third national championship.
Over the past three seasons, the junior has developed a penchant for coming up big when the team needs him the most: in the big games when the spotlight is shining the brightest. Schneider has played some of the best hockey of his Eagles career over the past six weeks, backstopping the squad to the nation’s longest winning streak, which is now at 12 and counting. In that stretch, the junior goalie has posted a 1.60 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, collecting three shutouts in the process. He is making tough saves almost look routine and has certainly returned to the form that made him an All-American during the 2005-2006 campaign.
Schneider came to BC as a highly touted recruit, but his emergence on the Eagles squad came while sharing the spotlight. He spent his freshman year splitting time with since-graduated goalie Matti Kaltianen and adjusting to the change in tempo of the college game, a move he feels has helped in the long run.
“Coach kind of eased me into it. He didn’t throw me against UNH and Maine the first few games,” Schneider said. “Matti was there to kind of take those games and coach could put me in where he wanted to and kind of get in a nice rotation where they weren’t counting on me every single night. I think that helps a lot as a freshman. It lets you get your feet wet and get used to the college game, and I think Matti really helped take a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”
But late in the season, coach Jerry York decided to ride the young freshman in the playoffs and into the national tournament.
Schneider has proven that he can play at the highest level — and win at the highest level — having backstopped not only BC to Hockey East titles, but the U.S. under-18 national team to a gold medal in the 2003 world junior championships.
Schneider, though, struggled in his first run through the NCAAs freshman year, but felt that that experience helped him.
“I kind of got some exposure to it my freshman year in the Hockey East and the NCAA’s and I think that helped a lot because I struggled a bit in the tournament my freshman year. When it’s a big game, it’s easy to get up for it, easy to get focused. You’re nervous for a little bit, but once you see a few shots, you settle down. I think that the excitement and anticipation makes you more ready to go,” he said.
Now, Brennan says, “He’s a big-game goalie without a doubt. He comes up big whenever we need him in a huge, huge game, as you can see by this playoff run that we’ve had. I think it’s his focus, his focus before games, during practice, he’s always trying to get better.”
Schneider and the Eagles battled through a rough stretch in the early portion of the season, dropping in the national polls from No. 1 to as low as No. 15. This year, BC has at times seemed in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament, and part of the Eagle’s struggles were between the pipes. On Oct. 20, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came to Conte Forum and smoked the Eagles, 7-1. Schneider had one of his toughest outings of his career — though BC was able to recover, they couldn’t gain any momentum or put together a winning streak longer than three games.
Inconsistency continued to plague the Eagles throughout the season, but when the Beanpot rolled around, the whole season turned for Jerry York’s squad. Cory’s early-season struggles, said York, could have stemmed from his previous success.
“I think we expect an awful lot of him,” he said. “Our expectation is that he’d stop every single puck. I think he got into that framework during the year that, ‘hey Coach, I have to be perfect, 1.000 percent save percentage, I’m a returning All-American.’ He put a lot of pressure on himself.”
York, who leads all active coaches in victories, explained how he helped his netminder, saying, “I just talked to him and told him to be athletic, relax a little bit Cory. It’s almost like the golfer on the first tee, you’re expecting him to hit it right down the middle all the time — and hey, Tiger doesn’t hit it down the middle all the time.”
“The whole year, the team was inconsistent in the first three quarters of the season,” Schneider said. “But I think once they started playing well, I started playing well too. They started playing a little tighter D, and I started taking care of my own business. This streak here at the end has been huge, just to get back to where I know I can play and where I should have been playing the whole year.”
And Schneider has been at the forefront of the turnaround. He has been lights-out recently and is certainly ready to carry the Eagles to a national title, the school’s first since 2001. It is hardly surprising that Schneider’s play has elevated at the same time as that of the entire squad. When he is at the top of his game, the rest of the team is able to play with the confidence that he will stop everything, and thus it allows the rest of the squad to take more chances and play in a more relaxed frame of mind.
“Having him back there gives you a lot of confidence,” Brennan said. “But, at the same time, you can’t get stuck in a complacent state of mind, which you can because he’s so good and he’s always back there when you need him and he comes up big for us.”
And his teammates and the Eagles faithful hope that Schneider can come up big in the next two games.
“This year we’re not just satisfied to be in the Frozen Four; we want more than that, so I think that’s going to be a big driving force,” Schneider said about the team’s goal. “We want to finish out what we started here. For right now, I’m just focused on winning these two games.”