Oct. 9, 2014
By Todd Burlage
Culture shock was the only certainty University of Notre Dame hockey player Peter Schneider faced during his first trip to the United States nearly five years ago. The trip had nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with business. Anything beyond that was guesswork.
The only guarantee was no guarantees, but Schneider knew that if he had any chance of playing college hockey, it wasn’t going to happen as an anonymous player in a nondescript junior hockey league somewhere in the Czech Republic.
So, armed with not much more than the support of his family, hope, uncertainty, and a wicked slap shot, Schneider decided it was then or never in the summer of 2010 when he packed his skates, pads and blades and made the trip from Europe to Indianapolis to see how far life and hockey could take him.
“Oh, I was nervous,” says Schneider of the most important decision he has ever made. “It was definitely a big move for me, but I also knew it was my only chance at playing college hockey.”
Athletes in other sports such as basketball, football, volleyball and soccer, take the traditional college scholarship route based on their attention and accolades from high school. But earning a college scholarship in hockey can be different, especially for European players who must skate their way to their break through lower levels such as the British Columbia Hockey League in Canada or the United States Hockey League in the United States.
In fact, Schneider’s reputation as a star player through his junior hockey days in Austria, then Slovakia, and finally the Czech Republic, made him one of only approximately 10 Europeans out of more than 60 players to even secure a tryout for the Indiana Ice (a Tier I junior ice hockey team based in Indianapolis) in 2010.
“It’s really difficult for players to go straight from Europe into college because college coaches don’t have a chance to see a player,” says Schneider, whose entire family remains in his hometown of Klosterneuburg, Austria, outside of Vienna. “And it is too risky to commit to an unknown player for four years. So the only real chance I had was to come here to try and play. I figured, why not try it, and it worked out.”
It worked out rather quickly for Schneider, who after playing just four exhibition games with the Indiana Ice of the USHL found himself with a Notre Dame scholarship offer that he wasted no time accepting — an offer born out of both talent and timing. Irish assistant hockey coach Andy Slaggert traveled to Indianapolis to scout a couple of American kids who had caught his eye. Two exhibition games later, Slaggert left Indianapolis with a certain European player topping his wish list.
“They didn’t know about me. They knew nothing about me,” Schneider says. “They must have liked the way I played. That’s the break you’re looking for.” Schneider’s combination of speed, his shot and his skill grabbed the attention of Slaggert, who immediately shared the news of this unknown prospect with his boss, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson.
“We were on Peter very early,” says Jackson, who immediately became interested in Schneider after taking his own trip to Indianapolis for a first-hand look. “We wanted to get to him while he was still somewhat of an unknown prospect.”
The match between Schneider and Notre Dame appears to be one almost made in heaven. As a terrific student, Schneider craves the academic opportunities Notre Dame offers. As one of the nation’s best hockey programs, the University also provides him a perfect setting to chase his dream of someday playing professionally. As a regular college kid, this new home far away from home has become so much more.
“Notre Dame is a real community,” Schneider says. “There are a lot of people who support you. You meet so many great people and you make new friends. It’s like a family.”
A Student … Then An Athlete
The demands on any student-athlete at Notre Dame rise above those at most other universities, and the ease with which Schneider juggles both responsibilities is what makes him so special.
With a double major in economics and finance — a tough one-two academic punch at Notre Dame — and a minor in actuarial science, Schneider not only survives, he excels.
As a junior last year, Schneider, who holds a 3.95 grade-point average, earned Capital One District V Academic All-District honors. As he begins his final two semesters at the University, he shows no signs of letting his academic excellence slip during his final year as a student and an athlete at Notre Dame.
“The most important thing that has helped me juggle hockey and schoolwork is how I manage my time,” says Schneider. “Whenever I have time in between practices, or after practices and before dinner, I try to use those little bits of time well. I always try to get my stuff done so I don’t have to stay up late.”
If you need more evidence of Schneider’s intelligence look no further than the fact that he speaks fluent German, Slovak and Czech. “And a little bit of English, too,” he says with a chuckle.
Notre Dame hockey linemate and team captain Steven Fogarty said it’s impossible not to recognize Schneider’s dedication to sport and school.
“The way he excels in every aspect at Notre Dame is very impressive,” Fogarty says. “He’s always doing community service. The guys learn a lot by the way he handles himself and carries himself, just the way he goes about his business.”
Those are just a few of the qualities that were instrumental in Schneider being selected as an alternate captain for the upcoming 2014-15 hockey season. Jackson says without fail Schneider provides a nearly perfect example on the ice, in the weight room and most importantly, in the classroom.
“He’s certainly earned that,” Jackson says of Schneider’s captainship. “He’s a great representative of our program and our University. He’s just a quality kid.”
Acceptance and humility are the two areas that have impressed Jackson most about Schneider during their time together. Schneider’s nimble skating, crafty stick work and fierce slap shot suggested to Jackson during recruiting that this European transplant would become a big-time goal scorer in college, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
After scoring 30 goals with 23 assists in his one season playing for the Indiana Ice, Schneider enters his last year at Notre Dame with 15 goals and 16 assists in 97 career games through his first three seasons. It’s a production drop that at least in part can be attributed to the different role Schneider has accepted at Notre Dame. The move for Schneider to the shut-down line puts an emphasis on his ability to control the opponent’s best offensive players while his other Irish teammates typically grab the goals and the glory.
“Anyone with the humility to assume a lesser role to what maybe he originally thought he was going to have, and be able to handle it, that’s special,” Jackson says. “Today, many kids would sulk about not being allowed to be a scorer; everybody wants to be the hero. Peter didn’t sulk about it. He took on the role of being one of our top penalty-killers and that has been a great help to our team and its success.”
Schneider is the first to admit switching from the finesse playing style in Europe to the forceful game in the United States wasn’t easy. Hockey in Europe is played on an Olympic-sized ice rink, which is about 15 feet wider than a typical sheet played on in the United States, a significant adjustment for overseas players.
“There is less contact [in Europe] so you have a lot more time to think and make plays there,” Schneider says. “Here [in the United States], the game is a lot quicker because the ice is smaller. You have to make faster decisions.”
Whether he’s someday playing minor league hockey in the United States or Canada, in a European league closer to home, or maybe even in the National Hockey League somewhere someday, Schneider has no intention of giving up his passion when his eligibility runs out after this season at Notre Dame.
“Playing professional hockey, that’s definitely what I want to try first and foremost,” he said. “Because I am only young once.”
Safe to say, that whatever the future holds for Peter Schneider — be it a long stint as a professional in his favorite sport, a lucrative career as a financial advisor or the president of a bank somewhere in New York City or Zurich, Switzerland — there is no doubt the personal investment he made about five years ago based on little more than hope, prayer and a slap shot turned out to be a very lucrative one.
“I try not to think too far into the future,” he says. “But I know that wherever I end up, Notre Dame has prepared me well for whatever comes my way.”