After a long gap, Cory Schneider is grateful to be getting another shot for Team USA

ByJulie Robenhymer ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Goalie Cory Schneider and his New Jersey Devils had just lost 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes, but he still had something to celebrate that March night.

While Schneider had been working the crease, Jim Johannson, USA Hockey executive vice president of hockey operations, had sent him a text saying he would be in the first group of players named the following day to Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. The tournament starts Sept. 17 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

"You know when the announcement is coming and you find yourself checking your phone quite a bit in the days leading up to it, just to see if anything came across," said the 30-year-old native of Marblehead, Massachusetts. "It was a welcome surprise and a pretty big relief."

Schneider learned during the 2013-14 season how to deal with the mental gymnastics that typically come with an opportunity of this magnitude. That season was his first as the undisputed No. 1 goalie after being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted him 26th overall in the 2004 draft, for the ninth selection (which the Canucks used to pick Bo Horvat) in the 2013 draft.

"My first year in New Jersey, the Olympics were a possibility. I don't want to say it was a distraction, but I didn't get off to a great start that year and it doesn't help to think about what that might mean for your Olympic chances," said Schneider, who attended camp but was not named to the USA team that went to Sochi. "This time, I made sure not to have any of those mental distractions, and kept my mind off of it. It was either going to happen or it wasn't, and the only thing I could do was put myself in a good position to be named."

According to Team USA's general manager, Dean Lombardi, who is also the GM of the Los Angeles Kings, that's exactly how it happened.

"I saw what he did at [Boston College], and I saw what he did in Vancouver, and now he got his full-time chance in New Jersey, and I think his performance speaks for itself," Lombardi said. "It didn't require beating yourself up with a lot of analysis to realize that he belonged in this group."

Schneider finished his third season as the Devils' No. 1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, ranking him among the best goalies in the NHL.

"You can break him down and see that he's a good athlete, moves side-to-side real well and he fights through to see pucks," Lombardi said of the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Schneider. "He doesn't overcommit and is really good positionally, but in the end it just comes down to stopping the puck and stopping it at the right time. And when you put him in high-pressure situations -- like in the playoffs with Vancouver -- he does that. He doesn't really have any flaws and is a great combination of being athletic and technically sound. That's why he's one of the better goaltenders in the league and why I wanted him on this team."

This won't be the first time Schneider will wear the stars and stripes, but it will be the first time in a long time. He represented USA Hockey in the U-18 world championship in 2004, the world junior championship in 2005 and 2006, and in the world championship in 2007.

"I know what it feels like to walk into a room and see that jersey hanging in your stall, and look around the room and the whole team has the USA logo on their chest. It's a pretty amazing experience," Schneider said. "I competed in a lot of tournaments in a short amount of time, and you think it's going to continue to be a regular occurrence, but then you realize just how special the opportunity is. It's been awhile since I've been able to wear the jersey and I'm excited to be able to put it back on."

This time around, he has more than contending in mind.

"We want to establish ourselves as one of the best countries in the world when it comes to hockey," he said. "Canada's won the past two Olympics and the past two world championships, and there are some other countries in the conversation as well, but we want to make sure we solidify ourselves as contenders on the world's stage and not be the team that gets close but can't quite get it done."

Joining him battling for Team USA's No. 1 job are the Kings' Jonathan Quick, who represented USA at the past two Olympics, and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ben Bishop, who will be wearing the red, white and blue for the first time. All three were born in 1986 and have played against one another a number of times throughout their careers, including two years in which they faced off against each other as Hockey East opponents with Schneider at BC, Quick at Massachusetts and Bishop at Maine.

"We are definitely not strangers," Schneider said. "We're all very familiar with each other's games and what each of us can bring to the team, and we all have a lot of respect for each other. So, no matter who is named as the starter, we know that Team USA will have a great player in net and that the other two guys will be ready to jump in in case something goes wrong. I obviously want to be the guy that gets the job done, but as long as the job gets done, that's what matters, and if me playing at my best forces one of them to play even better and it wins us a gold medal, I'm happy with that."

It's that sort of effort and camaraderie Lombardi was hoping would make itself evident when he named these three to the roster back in March.

"Goaltending is definitely one of our strengths, and I'm very confident in these guys and their ability to get the job done," he said. "I have no idea what John [Tortorella, head coach of Team USA] is going to do or how he's going to pick a starter, but I think we've given him three very good options."

As far as Schneider is concerned, the only thing he can control is his play, and that's what he's focusing on heading into training camp, which starts for Team USA on Monday in Columbus, Ohio.

"I'm sure it will be" a tough decision, Schneider said. "All three of us have played very well the last few years and the other two have a better résumé than I could put forward. Quickie's got two Cups, a Conn Smythe and two Vezina nominations, and Bishop went to the Stanley Cup final two years ago and has a couple Vezina nominations as well. So I might be lacking in that department, but I'm fully expecting to go in there and push as hard as I can for that job.

"The work I'm doing now in the summer is going to put me in a position to make an impression right when camp opens because I'm sure the evaluation process will start on Day 1. There won't be an opportunity to dip your toes in the water and potentially have some bad practices because the coaches aren't really going to care. They're going to go with the guy that's playing the best right then, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that's me."

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