The 2004 draft – a.k.a. Alex Ovechkin’s year – was considered to be deep in goaltending talent. Al Montoya, Devan Dubnyk and Marek Schwarz were all highly regarded first-rounders who went before the No. 26 selection, Cory Schneider.
Dominant at the high school level, Schneider was also ranked 26th in THN’s Draft Preview that year. He had an impressive .956 save percentage and 1.42 goals-against average, but there were still concerns surrounding his game that were quelled by a starring role at the World Under-18 Championship in Minsk, Belarus.
“He is so composed for a young guy coming out of high school,” a scout was quoted as saying in the 2004 Draft Preview. “He does so many things well. We had a few doubts about him going into the under-18s and he just impressed the heck out of us.”
Six years later, Montoya has played in five NHL games, Dubnyk 22 and Schwarz six, leaving Schneider (15) as the only one of the bunch who still carries around the expectation he’ll eventually be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
But Schneider’s transition to professional life wasn’t smooth. After losing back-to-back national championship games with Boston College, Schneider embarked on his career with the Manitoba Moose – coached by Scott Arniel, the current bench boss of the Columbus Blue Jackets – in 2007-08.
Through his first 11 appearances, Schneider’s numbers were miserable. A 3-7-0 record, 3.69 GAA and .872 SP ranked him amongst the worst in the league. Meanwhile, teammate Drew MacIntyre was posting wins and coach Arniel was getting fed up with the work ethic of the young Schneider.
“The big thing with Cory is he had great success at the college level and obviously was a first round draft pick and had lots of hype, lots of talk about him being the next up-and-coming top-end goalie,” Arniel said recently. “He came to us in the AHL and I think he kind of had disrespect for the league. I think he looked at it like everything would come easy.”
Arniel said Schneider wasn’t taking practice seriously enough and wasn’t competing for pucks during games – a worrying development at the time. To turn around the bad start to his career, Schneider got a little bit of luck and a lot of good coaching.
After Schneider let in three goals on eight shots and got pulled in a December game against the Lake Erie Monsters, Arniel’s concerns about his goalie hit a breaking point. With MacIntyre on recall to the Canucks, Arniel had little choice but to turn back to Schneider for another game against those same Monsters the following night. However, before he made that decision, he pulled Schneider aside and held him accountable.
“I called him into the office and we had a real good talk about the game,” Arniel said. “I told him about all those things; I didn’t like the way he was approaching being a professional. I threw him back in the net the next night and it was one of his better games.”
Schneider finished the year with a 21-12-2 record, .916 SP and 2.28 GAA, earning rookie of the month honors in March. The following year, Schneider’s GAA dipped to 2.04 as he led the Moose to their first and only 50-win season and top spot in the league. He carried Manitoba to the Calder Cup final where they lost, but earned the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for AHL goaltender of the year.
After one more season together in 2009-10 on an offensively deficient team that was defeated in the opening round of the post-season, Arniel and Schneider graduated to the NHL. For Arniel, it was a much-deserved first attempt to lead an NHL bench; for Schneider, it was the next step up the ladder to full-time NHLer status - albeit with a lot of work ahead in Roberto Luongo’s shadow to finally become that No. 1 goalie he’s been touted as for so long.
But at least this time, he’s prepared for the challenge.
“He really turned a corner and really became the goaltender we see today,” Arniel said. “It just took a little bit to realize he had to put the work and time in; he’s become a better goalie and I think he’s become a great example of a young goaltender who figured it out very quickly.”
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.