Hard work, opportunity leads to NHL contract for Medicine Hat’s Schneider

By Glen Erickson
Nick Schneider - Medicine Hat Tigers

Photo: Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Nick Schneider was passed over at the 2015 NHL Draft, but parlayed a good showing at the Flames camp into an entry-level deal (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

Imagine what it would be like being a teenager with some hockey aspirations sitting in an NHL dressing room beside a player earning about $5 million a season. For many juniors across Canada, this is perhaps a rite of passage, the culmination of long hours of work, of diligence, of persistence.

Enter Nick Schneider (CGY) of the Medicine Hat Tigers, an 18-year-old goaltender who found himself on that very hot seat prior to the current WHL campaign.

“It’s definitely crazy,” Schneider said when he spoke with Hockey’s Future before a road game against the Kelowna Rockets. “You know, sharing the net with Jonas Hiller, he’s making maybe $4.5 or $5 million dollars.”

During training camps, the stipend for young hopefuls must seem pretty skinny compared to the riches being earned by the incumbents. But for Schneider, he was just ecstatic to be there with the Calgary Flames.

“Sharing a net with him (Hiller) was pretty cool,” Schneider said. “It kind of shows you how big the difference is. But at the same time, the WHL is just a couple of steps below that. I think it really just gives guys motivation to do the little things that will help you to get there.”

And Schneider knows well of what he speaks. “Getting there” was anything but a conventional route.

Overlooked early on

When Schneider arrived on the scene in Leduc, Alberta, he took to the ice with some success, cracking the lineup as a first year goaltender for the local Bantam AA team. Beyond that season, his hockey roadmap took a couple of curious detours.

“My first year in bantam hockey, I played for the AA team in Leduc where I just moved that year,” Schneider said. “Then in my second year of bantam, I got released from Leduc.”

Without a suitable option in Leduc, Schneider headed West to tend the pipes in the community of Spruce Grove.

“I had a buddy in Spruce Grove and I guess when I got released from Leduc, he mentioned to his coach that I had got released,” Schneider said. “They brought me on in bantam and the coach was actually a scout for Regina. It’s interesting how things work out. I had a good year there and (eventually) I got listed by the Regina Pats.”

Schneider’s play through bantam hockey had not garnered consideration from any of the 22 teams at the WHL Bantam Draft, as he was bypassed by each of the 22 teams.

“It was kind of a surprise because I thought I had a pretty good year,” Schneider said of his bantam draft season. “But at the same time, I hadn’t really talked with any teams before the (WHL) draft. So, that all was kind of tough. After the draft, I got one letter from a team in the WHL.”

In hockey, like in life, there are plenty of cases that speak to the importance of persisting after early disappointment. For Schneider, the opportunity to play in Spruce Grove enabled him to maintain a level of exposure that kept him on the WHL radar. But when it came time to lace up the blades for his first season of midget hockey, Schneider did have designs on playing closer to home.

“In my Midget 15 year, I thought I’d make Leduc, but I got released again,” Schneider said. “So I went over to Spruce Grove again for another year.

“I did get an invite to the U16 summer camp in Camrose, Alberta, because I think (Zach) Sawchenko went to a national event. So I was kind of a late invite and that’s where I got invited to Regina’s camp.”

In an odd twist, Schneider actually made the grade in Leduc for his second midget year, earning a spot with the city’s entry in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. But things got interesting just a few short weeks later. To some degree, Schneider was clearly now in control of his immediate destiny.

“I started my second year of midget in Leduc AAA,” he said. “I made it finally. I was really excited, but about a month in I started to go up and down with Regina. Then in November, they called me up for good. Then at the (WHL) trade deadline, I came over to Medicine Hat.”

Arriving in the ‘Dub

Despite the lack of suitors at the bantam draft, Schneider had found his way into the WHL at 16 years of age as the backup goaltender to the Pats’ Dawson MacAuley during the 2013-14 season. However, his stay in Regina was rather a short one. In nine appearances, Schneider posted a 3.56 goals-against average, an .870 save percentage and a record of two wins and two losses. Hardly awe inspiring numbers.

“At the trade deadline that season, I was on my way to Medicine Hat,” Schneider said. “It was me and a third round pick for Daniel Wapple and Logan McVeigh.”

When Schneider became a member of the Tigers, it was also in a backup role behind Marek Langhamer (ARI). Langhamer is an interesting case, the last import goaltender to play in the CHL after all three leagues adopted a rule to limit import eligibility to skaters only.

In eight appearances for the Tigers, on a veteran-laden team in the Gas City, Schneider sparkled en route to posting a 1.42 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. With six victories and no defeats, Schneider was learning how to win.

The NHL Draft

During the 2014-15 WHL season, he played behind Langhamer, appearing in 27 games for the Tigers. He compiled a record of 15-7-1, a 2.82 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

Prior to the 2015 NHL Draft, Schneider was ranked ninth among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting. Among the top 10, Schneider was the smallest of the bunch at 6’2” and 175 pounds. Eventually, of those top 10-ranked goaltenders, seven were selected at the draft in Sunrise, Florida. As events transpired in Sunrise, the only WHL goalie chosen through the seven rounds was Adin Hill of the Portland Winterhawks, 76th overall by the Arizona Coyotes.

Schneider’s name wasn’t called, amid suggestions prior to the draft that the Calgary Flames had been expressing interest. However, even if Schneider was in the Flames’ plans on Draft Day, any likelihood he’d be selected was probably quashed when the trade with the Boston Bruins for Dougie Hamilton surfaced. It was a deal that cost Calgary a couple of draft picks, and perhaps altered the club’s strategy.

“My agent had talked to the Calgary Flames,” Schneider said when asked if he was aware of the Flames’ interest prior to the draft. “Obviously right after the draft, I hoped to at least get a development camp invite, but I never really got any NHL looks. Then about the middle of July, Calgary called.”

Schneider wound up seeing plenty of ice time with the Flames during September. At the annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C., he came face to face with head coach Bob Hartley.

“I met him in camp a bit,” Schneider said of Hartley. “He seems like a really good coach, a guy who likes when players work really hard.”

His performance led to an invite to main camp. Other netminders at camp were Mason McDonald, Jon Gillies, and of course, Hiller. Each went down with an injury at some point, leaving the Flames with plenty of opportunity to see what Schneider had to offer.

“You know, I started talking to him (Hartley) more and more,” Schneider said. “And then a couple goalies got hurt and I never really seemed to leave the ice. Boy, that was really a fun time.”

If there was one day in particular that may have been the most fun for Schneider, it was probably September 23rd. That’s the day it was announced he had signed an entry-level contract with the Flames.

The skill set

“I think I’m a really good skater and puck handler,” Schneider said when asked to point out his attributes. “I think with our goalie coach here in Medicine Hat, J.F. Martell, we also do a lot of post work, so I think I’m getting better and better along the posts. I’ve really worked on my depth in the net recently these last few months.”

Like many young goaltenders, Schneider isn’t shy of a heavy workload.

“Well, I think just going with the flow,” Schneider said when asked about playing big minutes. “This year, we have a younger team, so we’re definitely getting a few more chances against us compared to the past couple of years when we had more older players.

“But, I think it’s about always being ready. Last year and the year before with Marek (Langhamer), I mean he’s a pretty good goalie, I still tried to prepare every single game like I was going to play, regardless of the amount of shots. I just want to make sure I’m ready when the puck drops.”

And being ready has been paramount to Schneider’s personal achievements to date. His determination, his level of compete, are attributes that have kept him moving forward with success after some unusual setbacks.

“I think just growing up and learning by getting cut from teams,” Schneider said. “It really doesn’t matter what a whole lot of people think. You just have to do your thing. Just don’t really look back. Go forward.

“If you just keep focus on your development, I think things will work out in the end. So far, they have for me. That’s the way I look at it.”

Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51