The Bill Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. Each team has one player selected by the members of their local PHWA and last year the New Jersey chapter nominated New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. This season they should be voting the same way.
Last season, Schneider was sent to the AHL on two occasions to rehab from injuries and made his way back to the NHL to win his first game in 14 months. This season in early November Schneider was waived and again, went to the AHL to get his groove back. He was the consummate professional through it all and earned two recalls – one for a three-game stint in January, and finally, prior to the trade deadline, he was recalled from the Binghamton Devils because a trade of Louis Domingue was imminent.
Before his start on Feb. 25 in Detroit Schneider’s record was 0-6-1. Since the start in the Motor City, the 33-year-old has put up a 3-0-1 record with one shutout and one win over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. In each of the four games, his save percentage has been .900 or better and has allowed just a total of six goals against.
“I feel pretty active in the crease. I feel like I’m finding pucks pretty well – point shots, maybe ones I was either not seeing earlier in the year or not quite working hard enough to locate,” replied the goaltender when asked what he thought has been working well for him lately. “Right now I feel good about finding my windows and lanes and just getting my eyes on the puck. There’s so much traffic and seam plays – it’s never what it seems when you see a guy with the puck on his stick.”
“You have to be aware, look around and know his options. I feel like I’m seeing it and reading it really well. But you can’t take it for granted. It comes from working hard, competing, and doing everything you can to find the puck. I just have to keep doing that,” he added.
The win over the Blues was his first win at the Prudential Center in almost a full calendar year (Mar. 25, 2019). “This was my first home start in a long time. Against that team, they’ve beaten us pretty badly a few times the last few years since I’ve been here,” said Schneider after the win. St. Louis had won the last 12 matchups between the two teams dating back to Jan. 21, 2014. “It’s nice to take one from them and I thought we played pretty well tonight. My teammates worked hard and battled tonight.”
Defenseman Dakota Mermis was recalled from Binghamton when Schneider was on Feb. 20, so on top of the two of them getting to know each other in the AHL, they also have been a part of the Devils’ recent stretch of solid play.
“You can’t say enough about how good Schneids has been,” said Mermis after the win over the Blues where the blueliner netted his first NHL goal. “He was one of the first guys I met when I came here this summer (after signing), we spent some time in Binghamton together, got recalled together. It’s only fitting he got an assist on my (first) goal.”
The cherry on top of Schneider’s win was picking up an assist on Mermis’ goal, the ninth assist/point of his career and first point since 2015. “I thought I was going to get an assist on our first goal,” Schneider said with a grin, “I blocker-ed it right to PK (Subban). But I guess they don’t count those anymore. I didn’t even know I had an assist on Dakota’s goal until the third period.”
Schneider’s tenure with the Devils has been like a rollercoaster ride with lots of highs and lows and sometimes turned upside down. He is the owner of New Jersey’s lone postseason win in the last eight seasons and through it all he has never complained, never made it about what the team looked like in front of him no matter how bad it was. He’s battled through some tough injuries that may have taken longer to recover from than expected by fans.
“I’ve felt pretty healthy for about the last year or so, probably since about last year when I came back (from my rehab assignment),” said Schneider. “That’s been encouraging. I was excited this summer about how I felt during training, conditioning, and getting my body back to 100%. That’s why I think the way the year started was pretty disappointing.”
Schneider went 0-4-1 over his first six appearances (one in relief) before he was sent to Binghamton where he went 7-7-0 with a 2.71 GAA and a .903 save percentage. “He was great the whole time he was down there,” said Mermis of Schneider’s presence. “He’s continued that here, he’s an elite goaltender for a reason and he keeps showing it.”
After dropping his first four decisions in the AHL the veteran goalie didn’t allow more than three goals in a game over his final ten appearances; four times he surrendered only one goal. Now he’s up in the big leagues again, getting his turn at-bat.
“I was excited about feeling good again. You just get so used to having things nag and linger that when they are gone you don’t even realize what you were going through,” he explained. “I’m not trying to make myself out to be some hero or martyr. It’s just nice to feel healthy again and just go play, and not worry about things like what might happen if something goes wrong.”
Winning, as we all know, is always fun and always the cure for any ailments, physical or mental. “It’s always nice to win,” Schneider added. “It doesn’t matter where or against whom. I just want to keep playing well and giving us a chance to win.”
He may not win the Masterton Trophy this year, but he should definitely be the Devils player chosen again this season.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.