Schneider thankful for opportunities during eventful season

Photo Courtesy of Hockey Canada Braden Schneider keeps a close eye on Teemu Turunen during Canada’s gold medal game triumph over Finland at the 2021 IIHF World Championships in Riga, Latvia earlier this month.

After spending the last eight months on the ice in various locations, Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider has finally got a chance to relax and look back on what was easily the craziest year in his hockey career to date.

“It’s been nice to have a chance to wind down and relax, hit up the golf course and even go to the lake,” Schneider said. “It was a whirlwind season and I’m really lucky that I had the opportunity to play, but it’s nice to get some rest here as I look forward to what’s hopefully going to be more of a normal year next season.

“I’ve had a chance to reflect on everything now and it was pretty much either stop and go at all times. From going to Red Deer in November for the World Junior camp, testing the waters in the AHL with Hartford, having a WHL season in Regina and then representing Canada at the World Championships, there wasn’t really a slow down period.”

The 19-year-old Schneider, who was the 19th overall pick by the New York Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft and signed a contract with the club in March, captained the Brandon Wheat Kings to their first East Division title in five years this spring at the Brandt Centre in Regina.

“I think what stands out the most with our team is just how close of a group that we were,” Schneider said of this year’s team, which posted an 18-4-2 record and edged out the Winnipeg Ice by a single point. “We’ve been building towards this season and everyone was friends with one another, which allowed us to form an incredible bond.

“I hope that the chemistry we built up continues with the team as they go forward. The Wheat Kings are always fast and hard to play against and there’s a lot of guys that we’ll be looking to step up their games next year and try to make a name for themselves in the WHL.”

Schneider, who ended up in a tie for third in team scoring with 27 points in 22 games, was rewarded for his play in the bubble with the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the top defenceman in the Western Hockey League.

“I actually found out that I had won the award from (Brandon Sun sports reporter) Perry Bergson the day it was announced,” Schneider said. “I might have been a little late on the ball in terms of finding out about it, but to hear about it on the phone from Perry was pretty funny.

“Having the chance to play in some meaningful games before I got to Regina helped me out quite a bit this year, especially with building my confidence. My coaches gave me a little more of a leash offensively this year as they knew that it was something I wanted to work on and I was fortunate to be on the ice with the caliber of players that were on our team. I wouldn’t have had the same success without all of those people around me.”

Shortly after the Wheat Kings season came to an end, Schneider received a call from Hockey Canada that he had been selected to represent his country at the 2021 IIHF World Championships in Riga, Latvia.

“I was really surprised when they contacted me and it’s an opportunity you can’t really turn down because of how big it is,” Schneider said. “I was excited to go over and do whatever I could to help Canada win a gold.”

Schneider, who was the seventh defenceman for most of the event, finished up the competition with an assist in nine games.

“I had to be ready mentally more than anything for when my shift came, but I think I learned more things just by watching than I did by playing,” Schneider said.

“As the tournament went on I earned the opportunity to have more ice time and I was happy with how I played. After the Italy game (where he earned an assist on a goal by Winnipeg Jets prospect Cole Perfetti) I had a lot more confidence and playing more of my game, where I was a bit more physical and skating a bit more.”

Schneider also had a front row seat to one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of the tournament as Canada rebounded from a 0-3 start to capture the gold medal in overtime over Finland.

“Once (Ottawa Senators forward) Nick (Paul) forced that turnover off of the faceoff, it felt like something was going to happen as he and (Senators forward) Connor (Brown) was coming up the ice,” Schneider said. “Once Nick put the puck in, it was pretty much pure joy for all of us on the bench.

“We didn’t have a great start, but I didn’t think we were doing anything wrong. We just needed to build some chemistry in order to get the puck into the back of the net. Once we started to gel and we got that first win under our belts, there was no stopping us.”

The World Championships also provided Schneider with some valuable insight into how pro players prepare for the game, which he’s using towards his off-season plans as he gets ready to join the Rangers system this fall.

“It was a great opportunity to see how seriously they take their work,” said Schneider, who is training in Saskatoon this summer. “The guys on our team were always doing things better themselves and they were constantly working on their game, even if it was the end of the season.

“The pace and the speed of the game at the Worlds was something that I took note of, along with how the guys talk on the ice and on the bench. I think all of those things that I learned will help as I make the transition into the pros.”