Schneider relishing mentor role with Isles

Photo: Lucas Armstrong

📝 by Patrick Williams

Young can’t-miss top prospect looking to live the National Hockey League dream.

Or NHL veteran now taking on a mentorship role.

Bridgeport Islanders goaltender Cory Schneider has filled both of the American Hockey League’s most established and necessary player roles. He has been that top prospect, and now, at 36, he is the veteran asked to help guide the next generation toward an NHL job.

Player development has long been the AHL’s mission, and effective mentorship has always been a crucial part of that mandate.

When Schneider entered the AHL as a 21-year-old, it was 2007, he had just played three seasons at Boston College as a first-round draft pick by Vancouver, and the Canucks still stationed their prospects with the Manitoba Moose.

Then as a second-year pro in 2008-09, Schneider earned a trip to the AHL All-Star Classic, won the “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s top goaltender and the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award for lowest team goals-against average, and took the Moose all the way to the Calder Cup Finals.

Now some 13 years later, Schneider is again an AHL standout. But this time the New York Islanders have placed him with Bridgeport to mentor top goaltending prospect Jakub Skarek and win some AHL games along the way, which he did, going 14-11-4 with a 2.71 GAA and .921 save percentage in 30 appearances.

This time, however, Schneider is in the AHL having played 410 NHL games, reached the Stanley Cup Final, and been selected for a trip to the NHL All-Star Game. He is the prospect who made it and achieved the NHL dream, and the organization’s management wants him to share that experience with their prospects.

“I think not only how great he’s playing right now, [but] just the way he approaches the game, the way he approaches practice, his leadership in the locker room,” Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson said of what Schneider offers. “He’s been through everything. He can really help this group.

“Quite honestly, the guys lean on him, and it’s been a great mix. He’s been great for Skarek.”

And in net Schneider can still do now what he did back during his days with the Moose ― win Calder Cup Playoff games that will earn those prospects additional postseason experience. Schneider flustered the Providence Bruins with a 46-save masterpiece in a 2-1 overtime victory that opened Bridgeport’s postseason May 2. Two nights later, he finished off the first-round sweep with a 29-save win.

Tuesday night on home ice, Schneider nearly pulled out another win in Game 1 of Bridgeport’s best-of-five Atlantic Division Semifinals against the Charlotte Checkers. Despite a 3-2 setback, Schneider owns a 1.49 GAA and a .951 save percentage in his three playoff games so far.

“I’ve been fortunate to have playoff experience at this level earlier in my career, at the NHL level a bit,” Schneider began. “And you learn no matter where you are at, playoff hockey is the best. These are the games you love, and you enjoy.”

With the series set to head back to Charlotte, Schneider and the Islanders are looking to even the series at home in Game 2 tonight.

“For me at this stage of my career, it’s just a lot of fun,” Schneider continued. “It’s fun to watch our team, our young guys get this experience and learn how to play in these circumstances.”

The Calder Cup Playoffs are meant to test young prospects and serve as a barometer to gauge their NHL readiness. Having a reliable hand like Schneider behind them eases some of that pressure.

“I’m just trying to feed off of my experience and the times I have played in these moments and just try to be that steadying influence back there for our guys,” Schneider explained. “We’ve shown a lot of resilience throughout the year that we’re not out of any game or we’ve found ways to come back and ways to win. I know for me personally if I’m able to just keep us in it long enough, we generally will find a way.”

Having been through long final-round runs at both the NHL and AHL levels, Schneider knows what his young Bridgeport teammates can gain from the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring.

“Early in my career playing [with] Manitoba, going on the playoff run to the Finals, you learn how to play with pressure and expectations,” Schneider said.

“The level here ramps up. So hopefully these young guys who are getting this experience and going through this [will] remember it and know what it takes to play these high-pressure games where the stakes are critical.”