500 points later, fire still burning for Schneider

Photo: Scott Paulus

📝 by Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat

Cole Schneider just doesn’t know when to quit playing ― and why should he?

Now in his 11th professional season, Schneider is the unquestioned leader of one of the American Hockey League’s top teams, the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Admirals (7-2-0-0).

Sitting on 499 career AHL points going into the season, Schneider picked up an assist on teammate Tommy Novak’s third-period marker on Oct. 19 against Grand Rapids.

“Cole reaching 500 points is a record that marks his years of consistent performance,” Admirals coach Karl Taylor said. “The AHL is a very difficult level to play at, and Cole has done it in a manner of consistency that shows his professionalism and how much he invests in his team.”

“When I got that assist, I wasn’t really thinking about it or paying attention to getting to 500 points,” Schneider said. “I just want to play, want to win, and want to score. That is what really keeps me going.”

Schneider is just the 97th player in AHL history to reach the 500-point mark, and is third among active players in career scoring behind Bridgeport’s Chris Terry and former Admiral Cal O’Reilly of Lehigh Valley.

“You tip your hat to what [Cole has] accomplished, but we expect him to continue to produce for us,” Taylor said.

Since making his pro debut in March of 2012, Schneider has competed primarily in the developmental AHL, where teams may only dress five players with more than 260 games of professional hockey experience each night. The undrafted Schneider crossed that threshold in 2016; at 659 games and counting, he seems to be getting better with age. In 2021-22, he racked up the highest goal total (30) and the second-highest point total (60) of his career.

“I like to think that I’ve played the same way my whole career, but I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by good players that have continued to help me produce,” Schneider said. “Last year I had 30 goals playing alongside some really good guys, Glasser (current Nashville Predators forward Cody Glass) and Grimaldi (longtime NHLer Rocco Grimaldi). Guys like that make the game easier.”

Schneider’s leadership and veteran presence are vital to Milwaukee’s success. The 6-foot-1 forward remains one of the AHL’s best net-front players, scoring most of his goals from within a few feet of the goal. Last season Schneider pulled off the ridiculous feat of scoring a hat trick without ever touching the puck with his stick.

Along with producing on the scoresheet, Milwaukee’s captain knows how important his job is to assist with the mentoring Nashville prospects and help with their development.

“Cole leads our team by example, in the locker room, and with the way he goes about his business,” Admirals general manager Scott Nichol said. “It is really good for our young guys to have someone like that to play with. We want to play our Admirals style of hockey here in Milwaukee, and he’s really taken the reins of our team.”

Schneider plays the role of team leader and mentor willingly, and it is something his teammates appreciate.

“Cole is the most outgoing guy in the room, he’s always talking, and he always has something to say,” Admirals rookie forward Luke Evangelista said. “He leads by example too because he’s a hard worker, and that is what being a captain is all about. As a young guy on this team I just kind of look at him and know that if I follow in his footsteps then I’m going to have success.”

Schneider remembers what it was like to be a young player developing in the AHL, and then earning that first call up to the National Hockey League. The Williamsville, N.Y., native has played six games in the NHL, all for the team he rooted for as a child — the Buffalo Sabres. Schneider’s NHL debut came on April 8, 2016, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Playing my first game for Buffalo was a dream come true,” said Schneider, whose hometown is a suburb of the Queen City. “When I turned professional, I originally signed with Ottawa, and I would have loved to play my first game with the Senators. But when I was growing up and playing street hockey in the driveway, I was dreaming of playing for the Sabres. I wouldn’t want to change a thing with getting to play my first game in Buffalo in front of my family and friends.”

Photo: Scott Paulus

Schneider’s one and only NHL point to date came in a Nov. 9, 2016, game against Ottawa, chipping in an assist on Nick Baptiste’s first-period goal. Interestingly, Schneider and Baptiste’s career paths have often intertwined: the two forwards were again teammates two years later in Milwaukee after the Admirals traded for Schneider.

“I was up with the Sabres playing alongside one of my buddies, Nick Baptiste, who I actually played with in three different cities (Rochester, Buffalo, Milwaukee),” Schneider said. “I got an assist on his first NHL goal for my first NHL point. But because it was his first goal, he got to keep that puck.”

While Schneider has not returned to the NHL since that last stint with Buffalo, he has been a mainstay in the AHL. After having played for the Ottawa, Buffalo and New York Rangers organizations, Schneider was traded to the Nashville Predators on Jan. 14, 2019.

The Admirals and Schneider proved to be a perfect fit, and Schneider was on pace for a terrific season with Milwaukee when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2019-20 AHL campaign.

“We’ve been able to bring in an individual that has had a massive impact on our organization both in Milwaukee [and] in Nashville with the players that have come through here and moved on,” said Taylor. “He assists us with creating an environment that allows our players to grow and improve.”

With the Admirals opting to sit out the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, it would have been easy for Schneider to say goodbye to professional hockey. But the crafty forward wasn’t ready to call it a career just yet. Schneider ended up joining the Texas Stars before returning to Milwaukee, where he was named captain of the Admirals for the 2021-22 campaign.

With plenty of uncertainty regarding Milwaukee’s return to play in 2021-22, all Schneider did as captain was to steer the Admirals ship back into the Calder Cup Playoffs, and help his team earn a series victory for the first time since 2011.

“I think it is just the competitive nature of the game that keeps me playing,” Schneider said. “I still want to win, but I also want to help my teammates achieve their goals and make it to the NHL. I feel like I’m another coach and another voice for these guys. Ultimately that is their goal and I want to help them do that.”

Now 32, Schneider still feels the fire of competition burning strong. That, plus a love of a city in Milwaukee that has become his adopted home.

“There is no question that Cole loves Milwaukee, loves this sport, and he’s able to make a good living playing the game he loves here,” Taylor said. “We haven’t got there yet, but for everyone father time grabs you at some point. I don’t think that it is that time at all for Cole because he is a guy that has a standard that is really high for himself. He has lots of games left in him.”

“I want to play as long as I can, because I still enjoy it and that drive is still there,” Schneider said. “As long as I can keep earning contracts, I want to keep playing and competing.”