NEWARK, N.J. — Back in action yet again, the New Jersey Devils’ first official morning skate of the season left goaltender Cory Schneider with a wide grin on his face as he entered the locker room. Unbuckling his pads and dripping in sweat, the 33-year-old didn’t flinch from the mention of past adversity. In fact, he was open about his up-and-down career.
Besides, it’s all in the rearview now, as if it never happened — at least, that’s how he sees it.
“You know, it is adversity,” he pointed out after practice. “But in perspective, I’m still playing the game I love to play.”
The prime of Schneider’s career came early on, when he became the full-time Vancouver Canucks backup in 2010-11, which saw him register a 2.23 GAA and .929 save percentage as he and Roberto Luongo won the William M. Jennings Trophy and carried the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
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After two more years with the Canucks, Schneider was dealt to New Jersey on draft day and signed a multi-year extension with the team, becoming the Devils’ new starter. In his first three years, he boasted excellent numbers, where his save percentage never fell below .920 and his highest GAA was just 2.26. Schneider went from backup to starter and ushered in a new era of his career with the Devils in 2015-16 that saw him boast a 27-25-6 record with a .924 save percentage and 2.15 GAA. His standout performance made him an All-Star and earned him consideration for multiple awards, including the Lady Byng, Hart and Vezina, for which he finished sixth in voting.
However, after that, things started to go downhill. The 6-3, 200-pound netminder struggled with recurring hip injuries as his numbers dipped. He failed to record a win in the second half of the 2017-18 season, and despite a strong showing in the 2018 playoffs, next year would tell a different story.
He had hip surgery the summer prior to the start of the 2018-19 campaign that caused him to miss the start of the year. Returning to the lineup on Oct. 29, he won just six of 23 games played, posting a .903 save percentage and 3.06 GAA. In fact, his first victory of the season, which came in February over the Minnesota Wild, was his first win since Dec. 27, 2017. Despite playing well at the tail end of the year, the Devils failed to make the postseason for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
“What’s happened in the past has happened,” Schneider said. “I’m just sort of looking forward to feeling good and just playing hockey again. So just not trying to think about anything else at this point.”
New teammate P.K. Subban is no stranger to the netminder; the two played against each other at the AHL level, and now, Subban’s goal is to do what he can to support Schneider as he pursues a bounceback season.
“My job is to make his life easier,” Subban said. “You know, I think based on the past couple years and so on and so forth it’s been tough for the team and as well for him. Injuries are tough and I went through it, so I understand it.”
The netminder had an injury scare in the season opener as he had to leave the game against Winnipeg with cramps, but it turned out to be nothing serious.
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Heading into this year is a new and improved Schneider. The established starter had a strong showing in the offseason that all started with the IIHF World Championship, where he played between the pipes for the United States. In six games, he had a strong showing, making big saves and putting up a 2.49 GAA and .920 save percentage.
That carried over into the summer, where intense summer training has culminated in him earning the trust of his team.
“I’ve seen a guy that’s a great teammate, who’s mentally tough and he’s a player that’s on a mission,” head coach John Hynes said. “I think if you look back to last year, going through the struggles he went through, played well down the stretch, made a big commitment to go to the World Championship with the U.S. team, earned the right to be the starter, played some big games there and played well.
“[He] spent a lot of the summer here and made some sacrifices in the offseason to get his training and mentality where it needs to be. . . . he’s moving better, he’s confident, he’s hungry, he’s played well, he’s practiced well and he’s poised for a player that has certainly prepared himself to make sure that he’s ready to have the year that we need him to have to be a real competitive team.”
Kicking off a new year, Schneider is leaving everything in the rearview: lost seasons, injuries, lackluster play. Now, it’s time for a clean slate.
“I felt good in the preseason so I think it’s up to me to carry those habits over to the regular season. … I feel like I put the work in, so now it’s just up to me to go execute and follow through on that and continue what I built on in the offseason and preseason. You know, this is what counts now. Unfortunately, everything I’ve done up to this point doesn’t really matter. But that’s how I’m looking at it; just a new chapter.”
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