When St. Joe’s grad Cole Schneider made his NHL debut with the Sabres last week, he mentioned he hadn’t played at First Niagara Center since representing Buffalo’s high school all-stars at the Scotty Bowman Showcase, back in 2008.
That fact was certainly not lost on players and coaches at this year’s event, which took place Sunday.
“One of the questions in my mind is which one in this room is the next Cole Schneider?” asked St. Joe’s coach Rich Crozier, who led Buffalo’s team of high school juniors. “I might be looking at the next one. There’s no reason (they couldn’t be). Cole was a good player but he continued to get better. And that was actually the message that was shared by Scotty Bowman before the game: continue to get better.”
Crozier’s juniors lost to Rochester, 5-2, while the Buffalo seniors lost, 6-3. But nothing was going to dampen Crozier’s week.
His Marauders were celebrating their state championship at a banquet Thursday when news broke that the Sabres had called Schneider up from the minors, and an announcement went out to all in attendance.
“Cole has a huge impact on our program,” said Crozier, who succeeded Schneider’s father, Pete, as head coach after Cole graduated and Pete became athletic director. “We follow Cole very closely. I love his story.
“This is not a kid who was able to just take one step and it happened for him. For eight years he’s been battling. Whether it was in the NAHL or at Connecticut, Binghamton, Rochester, this kid’s been battling, trying to get his opportunity, kept working at it.
“He dealt with a lot of adversity, and I’m sure at times he felt like his dream wasn’t going to come true,” Crozier said. “But it did. It did. What a fantastic story.”
Parts of Schneider’s story are well known. He put up 43 points in 18 Federation games his senior year at St. Joe’s, one shy of what was then the league record. After high school he played for Mahoning Valley and Topeka in the NAHL, then starred at UConn before signing with Ottawa after his sophomore season.
But there’s a part of the story that isn’t told as often, Crozier said: the future pro didn’t start out on the varsity team.
“He was on the JV team as a freshman,” Crozier said. “In December he gets called up. He ends his freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, senior year wearing No. 10 for St. Joe’s; Friday night, Saturday night, he’s No. 10 for the Buffalo Sabres.”
Crozier’s players see aspects of Schneider’s story in the philosophy their coach tries to pass on to them.
“It kind of shows you can do the four-year high school hockey thing,” said St. Joe’s junior Michael Greco, who happens to be their current No. 10. “There was a text in a group chat: ‘Cole made it, who’s going to be the next Cole?’”
“He talks about that all the time,” senior Nicholas Wahler said of Crozier. “He really emphasizes the fact that St. Joe’s is great at building players to be at that level eventually. The players from St. Joe’s that have made it to that level (Schneider and Blackhawks third-round pick Dennis Gilbert) have played for us, they haven’t just played for AAA teams. They started at St. Joe’s.”
While Crozier’s squad of high school juniors fell to Rochester’s all-stars, 5-2, Marauders Greco and Trevor Conschafter scored the only goals for Buffalo while classmate Jeremy Ienco assisted on both.
Niagara Falls’ Alexander Hailey scored twice for Buffalo in the senior game before Rochester skated to a 6-3 victory.
In the prep school/juniors game, which wasn’t divided by hometown, Team Hasek (coached by Kevyn Adams) beat Team Perreault in overtime, 4-3, as Colton McKenna of the Jr. Sabres 16U team scored the winner on a breakaway. Matthew Barnaby, son of the former Sabre, opened the scoring for Team Perreault (coached by Ric Seiling) while Bryan Bylsma, son of the Sabres coach, was held without a point.