New Canucks backup thinks playing deeper makes it easier to play less
(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared early in the season, but seemed perfectly appropriate as a primer on Cory Schneider as the Canucks rookie made a shocking first NHL playoff start – ahead of Roberto Luongo – in Game 6 in Chicago on Sunday night. Check out Monday’s update for complete coverage of the surprising switch, and be sure to see our take on how the Blackhawks were picking apart Luongo and the Canucks the previous two games.)
“Don’t fear failure. Compete 100%. Enjoy the process. Play for others.”
Cory Schneider wrote those short, simple phrases over two pieces of masking tape and placed them on the upper inside cuff of his blocker before making his season debut Sunday, his first appearance as Vancouver Canucks new full-time backup.
For the 24-year-old it wasn’t about dealing with that particular moment – or the pressure of becoming just the third goalie to start ahead of Roberto Luongo for a Vancouver home game – but rather something that has helped in moments like it before.
“It’s something I started doing in college,” Schneider explained after making 32 saves – and debuting a great new tribute mask – in a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night.
“Sometimes it gets frantic and hectic back there and you start doubting yourself so it’s good to have little reminders to look down at every once and a while.”
If anyone could use a cheat sheet right now, it’s Schneider. Because for all the attention given to the “huge” changes Luongo is making under new goaltending coach Roland Melanson, the difference is actually bigger for his backup.
Like Luongo, Schneider is being asked to play deeper in his crease, all part of Melanson’s belief his goalies should have “blue ice in front of their skates.”
Unlike Luongo, however, Schneider isn’t just adjusting his positioning. He’s also adjusting the direction he is moving to arrive there.
That’s because Luongo has always been an inside-out goaltender, moving out to his save positions from a more conservative initial depth. So the biggest change for Luongo, beyond using more t-pushes and less shuffles, was how far he traveled to get there.
Schneider though, came into the season as more of an outside-in goalie, starting with a much more aggressive position outside his crease as play entered his zone and drifting back towards his goal line. It was never as dramatic as pure skaters like New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur or Chicago’s Marty Turco, but going from a backwards flow style to a more static start is a huge change.
“It has been a really big a adjustment,” admitted Schneider, who was effective enough in his old style to dominate the NCAA and win a top goaltender award during his three seasons in the AHL.
“There are times I feel a little vulnerable being deep in my net on shots but you have to believe that being a little bit deeper pucks still hit you. You have to react a little more but you can still make those saves. It’s just kind of trusting yourself and trusting the theory and once you put it into place it becomes easier to buy in.”
That theory includes the belief that a more neutral, middle-depth goaltender should be more consistent than one retreating back towards the net. That’s in part because you can’t skate backwards in a perfectly straight line. An outside-in goalie has to alternate their weight from skate to skate as they cut backwards. In addition to sometimes sacrificing their center-net angle as they do, these goalies also run the risk of getting caught on the wrong skate on a pass (In other words, if your weight is on the right skate as a pass moves left to right, you can’t push to the right without first transferring back to the left skate to push across). And because they start further out, these goalies also typically need to cover a longer distance on these lateral adjustments.
Because of all this, outside-in goaltenders typically rely more on timing and rhythm than their inside-out peers. For Schneider, who is expected to play 20 to 25 games at the most behind a healthy Luongo, relying less on rhythm and timing should be a good thing.
“It’s a good way to keep my game consistent for sporadic starts,” said Schneider, who went 15 days between his last preseason start and first of the regular season, his longest wait since minor hockey. “If you are deeper, you are more consistent because you are out of position less, so it might be even tougher to play my old style sporadically because you rely more on timing and rhythm. With this you are playing angles, trusting your size, and if you are only playing once every two or three weeks it’s a game you can keep simple and stay pretty consistent with.”
Which has made it easier to buy into such a big style tweak.
“It’s made sense,” continued Schneider “it’s saving me energy. Instead of pushing 10 feet, I’m pushing six feet, and I’m not getting caught out on backdoors and rebounds.”
Not that it’s been an easy switch, but as Schneider noted, “it’s not like I’m sitting on the couch” in those two weeks between starts. He’s spent between 30 to 45 minutes on the ice working with Melanson either before or after every practice so far.
“He likes to do game situations and really make you think about details and little things so when you have to do them in the game you don’t have to think about it,” said Schneider.
That’s good, because making massive style changes in his first full NHL season while playing once every couple weeks could produce enough thoughts to start Schneider’s head spinning. But if it does, all he has to do is look under his blocker to remember what is most important.