Schneider enjoying whirlwind season

Photo Courtesy of the Brandon Wheat Kings Brandon Wheat Kings captain Braden Schneider (centre) stands alongside the rest of the team’s leadership group at the Brandt Centre in Regina this weekend.

Prince Albert product preparing to captain Wheat Kings in East Division bubble

Over the last two months, Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider has found himself taking to the ice in Edmonton, Hartford and Regina.

While that would sound like a crazy schedule to some, the 19-year-old defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings is taking it all in stride.

“Everything’s been happening so fast since I was drafted (by the New York Rangers in October’s NHL Entry Draft), but with the COVID-19 restrictions I’ve had some time to reflect on everything while I’ve been in quarantine,” Schneider said on Monday afternoon.

“It always feels like your on the go at times but it’s been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”

Schneider and the rest of his Wheat Kings teammates have been back practicing together this week as they gear up to start the East Division bubble in Regina on Friday at 4 p.m. against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“We’re on the ice for around an hour and 15 minutes each day so we’re trying to make the most of it,” Schneider said.

“It’s definitely exciting to be back into a routine and see a bunch of familiar faces at the rink. We’re still getting our feet underneath us here, but I think we’ll be ready to go on Friday.”

In addition to an ownership change, the Wheat Kings also have a different head coach as Dave Lowry went up to the NHL to serve as an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets.

The new face behind the bench is a familiar one though as the team promoted assistant coach Don MacGillivray, who has been with the club since 2016.

“He’s been here ever since I was drafted by the Wheat Kings,” Schneider said.

“Obviously there’s still a learning process for everyone, but a lot of the things that we’ve been working on are similar to what the returning guys have had with our other coaches, which has made for a good camp.”

Schneider will also serve as the team’s leader this year as he was named the Wheat Kings’ 64th captain in franchise history last month.

“What stands out to me to is that our entire leadership group has been with the Wheat Kings during their whole junior career,” said Schneider, who is joined by assistant captains Lynden McCallum, Ridly Greig, Marcus Sekundiak and Ben McCartney. “To see how far we’ve come together is pretty special.

“I’m more of a leader that leads by example as I’m not a guy who gets mad or in your face about something. I’m not afraid to speak up if something needs to be said in the dressing room, but I like to carry myself in a way that the guys notice both on and off the ice.”

One of the biggest influences in Schneider’s style of leadership is former Wheat Kings forward Tanner Kaspick, who was the captain for the team during the 2017-18 season before he was dealt to the Victoria Royals at the trade deadline.

“He carried himself quietly and he wasn’t an in your face guy, but he set an example for everyone with how he handled himself,” Schneider said of Kaspick, who is now a prospect of the St. Louis Blues. “Tanner was very professional and brought his best effort to the rink every day, which is what I’ve tried to do as well.”

Schneider’s 2020-21 season will go down as the most eventful of his hockey career, even with all of the challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the Rangers selected him with the 19th overall pick at the NHL Draft, the blueliner earned a spot on Canada’s silver medal winning side at the World Juniors in Edmonton over Christmas.

“A lot of the guys on that roster have grown up together through the development process that Hockey Canada has as we’ve been on teams at the World Under-17’s, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the World Under-18’s,” Schneider said. “That really helps to build the bond that you need to have at a short tournament like that.

“Obviously, we would have loved to have won a gold medal, but it was still a great experience Edmonton and I made a number of lifelong friends.”

Although he had to sit out a game after he received a major penalty for a check to the head against Germany in the tournament opener, Schneider bounced back from that tough start as he put up a goal and two assists in six games to finish tied for second in defensive scoring with Kaiden Guhle of the Prince Albert Raiders.

“It was a little bit of a shaky opening to the tournament with the suspension, but I felt like I got better as the event went along,” Schneider said.

“Our whole team seemed to step their game as the games got get bigger and I felt like I was able to improve each time I stepped out on the ice. I was really happy with how I was able to play.”

Schneider then traveled to Hartford, Conn. to join the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, where he had an assist in two games before being reassigned back to the Wheat Kings.

“The pace of the game is pretty quick in the AHL, but I think it helped that I had some games under my belt already at the World Juniors as it would have been really tough to go in there completely cold,” Schneider said.

“The biggest thing I noticed though was the strength of the players. You’re playing against fully grown men and you need to learn pretty quickly on how to deal with battling in the corners but also playing your game.”

His whirlwind adventure paid off last Thursday as he signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers.

“It’s pretty special,” Schneider said. “It’s a great feeling but I know that it’s just one step here and now I’m focusing on what we can do here with the Wheat Kings.”

While there’s no guarantee that their will be a post-season in the WHL this year, Schneider expects a playoff-like atmosphere when the East Division starts squaring off with one another this weekend.

“There’s going to be a fast pace to these games as everyone here wants to win,” Schneider said.

“I’m expecting everyone to bring their best effort every night. We all want to win as many games as we can while we’re in Regina and I’m looking forward to it.”