By Phil Stacey
There are any number of accomplishments you can point to when talk comes around to Cory Schneider's best performance this season.
The 23-year-old from Marblehead earned a cornucopia of accolades on the ice, highlighted by his winning the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the outstanding goaltender in the American Hockey League. Schneider led the league in goals-against average (2.04) and save percentage (.928), setting new team records in both. The First Team AHL All-Star also set a new Moose record for consecutive wins (10), earned another team record in total wins (28), had five shutouts and guided Manitoba to 50 wins and 107 points, tops in the circuit.
Then there's his work on the guitar.
Schneider and his roommates, Manitoba center Alex Bolduc and defenseman Zack FitzGerald, all bought themselves acoustic guitars last season to help pass the time, and since then have been honing their finger pickin' skills whenever possible.
"I'm learning 'Under the Bridge' right now," Schneider said of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' classic. "I'm not exactly ripping off power ballads, but for a guy who just picked it up a little over a year ago I'm not bad. It's amazing what you can learn (about playing guitar) online."
Any comparisons between Schneider and contemporary axmen like Dave Grohl or John Frusciante, however, will have to wait.
That's because the Moose begin their second round playoff series tonight at home in Winnipeg against the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Griffins, and Schneider is being counted on heavily to guide Manitoba onto the next round — and beyond.
The Calder Cup is the AHL's equivalent to the Stanley Cup, and Manitoba is one of the favorites to win it this spring. But Schneider realizes that all of his individual awards and the team's success during the regular season won't mean much if they don't perform up to expectations now that the postseason is in full swing.
"We have the ability and the experience, plus guys who have been there before like Jason Krog (last year's Calder Cup MVP with the Chicago Wolves) and Mike Keane (owner of three Stanley Cups)," said Schneider, whose team beat the Toronto Marlies, 4 games to 2, in the first round of the playoffs. "If we stick to our systems, we'll be tough to score against."
That theory will be put to the test against a Grand Rapids team that has a top line of Justin Abdelkader, former UNH star Darren Haydar and Ville Leino, who combined for 31 points in their first round series victory over Hamilton. They also have goaltender Jimmy Howard, who played as a junior at the University of Maine when Schneider was a freshman at Boston College.
Schneider, who saw his first NHL action with the Vancouver Canucks when he was called up earlier this season, will be ready for whatever comes his way. There were nights early on when the team's defensive corps was healthy and he saw scant few shots per game; there were others, as the season wore on, when a lot of rubber came his way and he had to be sharp at all times.
Above all else, Schneider remarked, he learned to be mentally strong and consistent night in and night out.
"When I got sent down (by Vancouver from training camp), they told me to go to the American League and dominate. I'm fortunate I've been able to do what they've asked me to," he said. "It's a goal I had for myself and was able to accomplish it.
"Now, though, we've got to make it everything we've done up to this point count. We've got a team built for a long postseason run; now it's up to us to make it happen."
CORY SCHNEIDER IN 2008-09
Postseason to date
Schneider on playoff hockey: "In college, you lose one game and it's one-and-done. In a seven-game series, though, it's a completely different dynamic .. You really learn to hate the other team and get sick of seeing them. It's such a relief to finish a series — and have another one waiting for you."