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Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider (35) stands in net during hockey practice for the NHL Stanley Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia June 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider (35) stands in net during hockey practice for the NHL Stanley Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia June 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Roy MacGregor

A New England outpost for Canucks fans Add to ...

They like to show their allegiance along the North Shore.

There are small American flags hanging from telephone poles, larger ones from the front porches of the stately New England homes that line the leafy streets of postcard towns such as Salem, Lynn, Marblehead and Swampscott - the people fiercely loyal since the Boston Tea Party helped set off the American Revolution.

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Secondary allegiance is usually to a team in sports-mad Massachusetts: flags for the baseball Red Sox, banners for the basketball Celtics and football Patriots - fresh, homemade signs for the Boston Bruins, currently desperately chasing their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

But Rich and Sue Schneider wouldn't dare.

They're proud Americans - though they "feel" almost Canadian having spent so much time in Winnipeg and Vancouver the past few years - but they keep their team colours in an upstairs bedroom, pinned to the wall. A "home" and "away" Vancouver Canucks jersey with the name "Schneider" and the No. 35 stitched on the back.

It's not easy being blue. Certainly not in a sea of Boston gold, which is where the Schneiders will be seated again for Monday's Game 6 - the same seats they have held for 25 years, just behind the Boston bench, where wearing Canucks blue takes a bit of courage even for the parents of Vancouver backup goaltender Cory Schneider.

"It's pretty ironic," laughs Rich Schneider. "Never in our wildest imaginings would we have thought he would be playing for the Stanley Cup and he'd be playing for it against the Boston Bruins."

For 25 years Rich Schneider has waited for this moment, 25 years of living through terrible Boston teams and promising teams that ultimately brought heartbreak. His wife Sue has been there most games, as has son Geoff, more than two years older than 25-year-old Cory, a fine amateur player in his own right (forward) and as passionate a Bruins fans as the North Shore knows.

"We're not … sure … he's rooting for Vancouver," says the father. In Game 4, won 4-0 by Boston, father and son found themselves shouting at each other over which side was to blame in a wile mêlée involving Vancouver's Alex Burrows and Boston goaltender Tim Thomas.

"Did you see what Thomas did?"

"Didn't you see what Burrows did to him?"

"Geoff supports Cory," says Sue, the family moderator, "but he is cheering for his team."

The boys learned their hockey on the frozen ponds around their old home in nearby Marblehead. The house was so old and stately that they were able to turn the long kitchen into a year-round floor-hockey rink.

"More than a few tennis balls ended up in the soup," Rich says.

Cory chose goaltending because, his mother says, "he couldn't skate very well."

It was, by all appearance, a typical Canadian experience each winter, early morning practices with both parents heading different directions with a player each.

"I remember tying his skates and clipping his pads up in the dressing room," Sue says. "Glad I don't have to do that any more."

Cory became fixated on becoming a top-level goaltender when he was 8 years old and his favourite goaltender, Mike Richter - he wears No. 35 in Richter's honour - won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers.

In another stroke of irony, the Rangers won the 1993-94 Stanley Cup in seven games, defeating the Vancouver Canucks.

He played high school hockey in Marblehead, a bit of a hockey hotbed for New England, and moved on to Phillips Academy in nearby Andover, then headed south along the coast to Boston College, where he excelled. With Cory Schneider in net, the Eagles reached the NCAA final twice, both times coming but a single goal short of the championship.

Vancouver drafted him 26th overall in 2004. He was pegged as the goaltender of the future, finishing off his college career and moving on to the Manitoba Moose for polish. By the time he was ready for the NHL, however, the Canucks had traded for Roberto Luongo and soon made him the highest-paid player in the game ($10-million a year) with a 12-year contract extension.

Despite a stellar 16-4-2 record this past season, Cory Schneider remains a backup, a goaltender considered ready by those who know such things but only required, at the moment, when Luongo is injured or stumbles.

He came in as relief in Game 4 with the Bruins ahead 4-0, faced nine shots, several of them tough, but allowed no goals. Fickle fans cheered in Vancouver's Rogers Arena when they saw Luongo being pulled, but the Schneider family is long resolved to the fact that Luongo is No. 1, their son No. 2. At some point he will get his chance, perhaps with another team, but at the moment all that matters is the team and they, too, are hoping Luongo can return to his usual form.

Rich Schneider missed his son's earlier appearances in the Chicago series when, with Vancouver up three games to none, he decided to help a friend sail his boat from San Juan to the Florida coast.

The avid sailor was out of contact for days, landing to discover his son had relieved Luongo and had even been given his own start, which Vancouver lost 4-3 in overtime.

The rest of the family saw it, though, as did most of the town, so proud of their local product that he is already elected to the Marblehead Hockey Hall of Fame.

"He's just the sweetest kid," says Meri Warren, who went to high school with Cory. "Well rounded and well liked by everybody in town."

Down at the Marblehead Sports Shop on Pleasant Street, townsfolk come in regularly in search of Bruins merchandise, most of which is now sold out. But they all know that Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canuck, is one of them.

"It's great," says Chad Sher, store manager. "My 8-year-old says 'No matter what happens, the Stanley Cup is coming here this summer. It'll either be at Fenway Park if the Bruins win it - or coming right down our main street if Cory wins it.'

"Either way, we get the Cup."

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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