VANCOUVER – Cory Schneider will return to the Vancouver Canucks’ crease on Tuesday night after an extended holiday.
The Canucks are returning from the all-star break with a marquee matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks, one of their biggest rivals, and Schneider will be in net for Vancouver.
It’s been an even longer vacation for Schneider, however. He has not played since the Canucks beat Tampa Bay 5-4 in a shootout on Jan. 10.
“It’ll be good to get back in there and see where I’m at again,” Schneider said Monday.
Schneider got the starting nod because Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault wanted to ensure that No. 1 goalie Luongo rested during the all-star break. As a result, the coach told Schneider he would start before the backup went to Maui during the break.
“He just gave me the heads-up, so I’d be ready and not just lay on the beach the whole time,” said Schneider.
“If I told him (Luongo) in advance enough, I know that he would work out while he was (on the break),” said Vigneault. “Louie’s got a family and this was a good mental break for him. Cory doesn’t have a family yet, and he can work out during the break.”
Schneider said the all-star break has helped his lengthy layover on the bench not feel as long as it actually has been. When the 25-year-old Marblehead, Mass., native has gotten the call, he has played well for Vancouver, notably in November and December as he filled in for an injured and inconsistent Luongo.
The Canucks (30-15-4) and Blackhawks (29-15-6) both have 64 points and a chance to move within a point of the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings. The game takes on added meaning for Vancouver, because it will host the Red Wings two nights later.
“It’s a good test for us to play both these teams, starting with Chicago,” Schneider said. “Even though there’s been a break, I don’t think there’ll be any intensity lacking. I’m sure it’ll be fireworks early, or up and down the ice and playoff-style hockey.”
The Canucks ousted the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs last spring, a year after Chicago won the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in the post-season.
Schneider has posted 10 wins, five losses, a 2.30 goals-against average and two solo shutouts while sharing another on Dec. 6 after Luongo was sidelined by a shot in the throat and Vancouver rallied for a 6-0 win.
“I’m always trying to get better, I’m always trying to improve everything, and playing games like (Tuesday’s) against Chicago is a good opportunity and a good test for myself,” said Schneider.
Vigneault said the Blackhawks will be a good pre-playoff exam for his club as the stretch drive of the regular season looms. After going on a tear over an 18-game stretch, the Canucks are a modest 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.
“You’ve got two really good hockey teams that, I think, really enjoy playing one another because it brings out the best in both teams,” said Vigneault. “Even though both teams have been off here for a while, I expect the same type of great hockey game that we’ve always been getting (from) these teams.”
How much more of Schneider Vancouver fans will see after Tuesday remains to be seen. With Luongo expected to draw most of the action, he faces more long stretches on the bench.
With Schneider’s contract due to expire this summer and the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaching, he also represents a rare marketable commodity for general manager Mike Gillis at a time when Vancouver’s forward lines and defence pairings are well established.
Schneider’s future with the team is a constant topic of discussion on sports radio talks shows and elsewhere. But he tries not to waste energy thinking about it.
“It’s been a great year and a half,” said Schneider, who was promoted after three seasons as a Canucks farmhand. “I’ve got to experience things that a lot of guys never get a chance to experience. So I’m just hoping to help this team while I’m still here.”