Peter Schaefer says he isn't ancient, just old school.
So old school, in fact, that his new teammates with the Vancouver Canucks are having some fun with his period skates, his tiny shoulder pads, his oddly curved stick, and his early days with the NHL franchise, when the Sedin twins were still pimple-faced pups. Schaefer, 33, is just happy to be teased in an NHL dressing room again, having sat out last year and played in the American Hockey League in 2008-09.
It has been more than two years since he's dressed for an NHL game, but he will be in the lineup Saturday when the Canucks begin their 40th-anniversary season against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena here. The eight-year veteran from Yellow Grass, Sask., roughly 90 kilometres south of Regina, earned a job on one of the league's deepest roster the old-school way: He worked.
"For me, I had to be ready like it was mid-season," he said.
Attending camp on a professional tryout, Schaefer caught the attention of head coach Alain Vigneault, and was rewarded this week with a two-way, $600,000 (all currency U.S.) contract to begin the season in Vancouver. He was the clear beneficiary of Alex Burrows's off-season shoulder surgery, which will cost Vancouver's leading goal-scorer the first month, and is now hell-bent to stay.
"In my mind, every night is going to be a tryout," he said. "I come from a town of 500, and it was tough getting enough players for a team at any age group. I think I've always appreciated [hockey] but you definitely learn things."
Schaefer's odds-defying return to the NHL comes after he spent last year working out with former Canucks conditioning coach Peter Twist. After being buried in the minors the previous season, the Boston Bruins bought out Schaefer's $2.1-million contract - he'll get the final $566,000 payment this year - and in part because his agent lacked National Hockey League Players' Association certification, the winger didn't connect with another team and spent the year playing recreationally and staying in shape.
"It was probably more tough mentally than physically, getting up every day and doing it, not really knowing what the end game was," he said. "We changed up routines to keep it fresh and keep it new, so I didn't get bored mentally."
Schaefer was once an up-and-coming Canucks draft pick whose skating and checking profiled into a penalty-killing role, and a decade later his career has come full circle. He'll play on Vancouver's third line Saturday, and is being counted on to help the team's ghastly penalty-killing, which was 18th in the league last year, and even worse (61.5 per cent) in a first-round playoff series against the Kings.
But this circle hasn't been complete without some bumps. He held out before the 2001-02 season, and so irked Brian Burke that then Canucks general manager offered to pay his taxi fare to the airport.
A year later, Burke shipped him to the Ottawa Senators for defenceman Sami Salo. Schaefer was a key performer on a Senators team that advanced to the Stanley Cup final. That was his high moment, as he followed former Senators executive Peter Chiarelli to Boston, where the latter became GM. Schaefer played just one full season in Beantown, and his production dropped by 20 points, which led to the AHL demotion at a period when his career should have been cresting.
Instead, after some rehabilitation, he'll get a twilight, although with Burrows due back in November, and because his two-way contract doesn't require re-entry waivers, the AHL remains a possibility. But for the moment, Schaefer has something to savour.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs," he said. "[Being back in the NHL]is a pleasure for me."