The defining early game of Cory Schneider's career came in the middle of summer, Aug. 16, 2003, at the Junior World Cup for under-18 hockey players.
Schneider, then 17, shared goaltending duties with another young American. But for the gold medal game against Russia - led by Evgeni Malkin - it was Schneider in net. After two first-period power play goals by Russia, Schneider kept out all pucks as the U.S. won 3-2 and claimed its first U-18 World Cup in hockey.
"Winning a gold medal game against Russia was pretty cool," said Schneider in an interview last Saturday morning in Vancouver, before the Canucks left for Game 3 to face the Los Angeles Kings.
And now it is Game 4, the Presidents' Trophy winners down 3-0 to the eighth-seed Kings. Wednesday night will be the singular moment of Schneider's still-young NHL career. It is just his third start in the playoffs, and his appearance tonight in Los Angeles heralds a major longer-term shift in Vancouver's strategy, as the Canucks pin their hopes on the young understudy rather than veteran Roberto Luongo.
Schneider's numbers in the past two seasons are top-tier. In 58 games, he went 36-12-3 with a goals-against-average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .933. The numbers are in-line with the results put up this season by Kings starter Jonathan Quick, a likely Vezina finalist.
Schneider's regular-season run continued in Game 3 against L.A. He may be criticized for the big rebound he yielded that aided the Kings only goal, but was strong in the duel against his rival from his New England playing days as a teenager, Quick. Schneider had a save-percentage of .950, and Quick notched his fourth shutout in his last 11 outings.
In the NHL, Schneider doesn't point to a single game that marked, for him, a personal ascendancy, such as the match to claim gold over the Malkin-led Russians. This season, however, he does specifically mention Vancouver's win in January in Boston, 4-3, where Schneider, the local who grew up in nearby Marblehead, faced 39 shots.
The NHL, said Schneider, "has been progress, and development. I played in some bigger games this year, and the win in Boston was pretty cool, but I can't really say there's one defining moment. It's just been more of a progression."
Spirits in Vancouver last Saturday, several hours before they flew south to L.A., were not light, with the team down 2-0, but there were still some of the usual playful, sporting jabs.
After the morning practice, when Schneider was asked about a memorable and key game in his youth, teammate Jannik Hansen, whose locker is beside Schneider's, piped up: "Denmark against USA, under-18 championship, remember that game? What stood out for you?"
Schneider, having heard Hansen's reminisce about that 2004 round-robin game before, wryly asked: "Did you score?"
"Of course I did," Hansen basked.
What Hansen didn't mention was the tripping penalty he took earlier in the same game that led to a Phil Kessel goal for the U.S. Hansen's mark on Schneider tied it at one but the U.S. went on to win 5-2. The U.S. lost gold to Russia 3-2, eight months after Schneider's Junior World Cup gold.
After Hansen departed, I asked Schneider if Hansen was just jawing and whether the Danes had pulled an unlikely upset to overcome the Americans.
"Yeah, won, 5-2. We killed them," smiled Schneider. "The goal's his claim to fame."
And with that, the man who now is coming to very much look like the Vancouver Canucks' No 1 goaltender, walked to the showers