Nov. 6, 2014
Notre Dame, Indiana –
By Craig Chval `15
Peter Schneider isn’t one to ask for favors lightly.
The senior hockey player has achieved everything his coaches have laid out for him: he kills penalties, is All-Everything in the classroom and guides the 10-member freshman class as an alternate captain.
As a freshman himself, he was one of just three Irish players to have a positive plus/minus. Last season only four of his teammates scored more goals than him.
His head coach says “he does everything the right way” – a fairly vague platitude that still remains the highest of hockey compliments. What else can you expect in a sport that has “upper body” as an injury diagnosis?
“He’s a very mature kid,” head coach Jeff Jackson says. “He kicks butt in school. He’s never been an issue off the ice.
“He’s willing to do what you ask him to do. And he usually does it pretty well.”
So this time when it was Schneider who needed to ask the coaches for something, Jackson knew it was no trivial circumstance.
He requested to miss practice to attend the funeral of his grandmother, who passed away Sunday, Oct. 26. The funeral was to be held last Thursday (Oct. 30) – in Vienna, Austria.
“Any time something like that happens, I don’t care if you’re from South Bend or you’re from Austria,” Jackson says. “It’s a family member, and obviously it’s important that he went. And when I said, `Yeah, you’ve got to go,’ he said, `Well, I’d like to play Friday.'”
Breaking his usual policy of not dressing players who missed practice the previous day, Jackson said Schneider could play. He also moved Tuesday’s practice from the afternoon to the morning to allow him to participate before his flight.
“I did not expect that,” Schneider says. “I really just wanted to go home and be there for my family. And when I talked to Coach, I basically made it clear that I’m here for the team if you need me either way.”
“And Coach Jackson was really awesome about it and showed me confidence in letting me play Friday when I didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday. It meant a lot to me.”
Getting to the game was a more difficult prospect than it might seem. To catch his flight to Frankfurt, Germany, Schneider woke up at 4:30 a.m. Friday – that’s Austria time, so 10:30 p.m. EST.
From there, he flew to Chicago, got in a car and arrived in South Bend for Notre Dame’s first conference game of the season. It was 5:45 p.m., about two hours before puck drop. He had already been awake for almost 22 hours when the game started.
“But I got three hours of sleep on the plane,” he says almost sheepishly, as if that’s all a hockey player required. But it didn’t hurt that the Vienna native has plenty of experience on trans-Atlantic flights.
“I would say you get a little more used to it after a while. You kind of know what you have to do – how to sleep on the plane, stuff like that, little tricks. But I was also back home for two days, so I don’t really think my internal clock really adjusted to the time difference over in Austria.”
“For me it was mostly about the more than 10 hours of sitting on the plane. My legs got a little tired, but I just tried to get a quick bike ride before the game.”
The team might have needed Schneider no matter how willing his body was. The squad has dealt with a rash of injuries to the point where Jackson might not have been able to suit up 12 forwards if Schneider had been absent.
“We needed him, frankly,” Jackson says. “We needed him to play.”
As has become expected, the senior delivered. On Friday, Schneider hit Mario Lucia on a perfectly placed pass to the front of the net to take a 2-0 lead. The Irish would win the game 3-2.
On Saturday, Jackson was even more concerned about Schneider’s tiredness – now he was dealing with the typical aches and pains of a previous night’s worth of hockey in addition to the jetlag and sleep deprivation.
But when it became clear Schneider would keep up his usual intensity and level of play, Jackson doubled down and made an impromptu decision to move the winger to center.
“I thought it rejuvenated that line a little bit because it allowed Vinny (Hinostroza) to be a little bit freer on the wing to get out of the zone earlier,” Jackson says. “And it allowed Peter, who’s probably the strongest guy on our team, physically, to be able to play down low defensively.”
The plan worked, and Schneider relayed a pretty, behind-the-back pass from Hinostroza to set up Lucia once again for his second assist of the weekend. The goal would be crucial in earning a point in the standings, as the Irish and Catamounts tied 2-2.
Schneider’s level of play last weekend was remarkable considering the physical toll on his body, but his response in the wake of tragedy was even more admirable.
“There were a lot of things going through my head, obviously – my family most importantly,” he says. “I actually think coming back to play the game helped me take my mind off things and enjoy doing the thing I love.”
Schneider said he was fully prepared mentally to play the weekend’s games. On the plane – between naps – he went over all the necessary scouting and studying to ensure he was ready.
He wanted to make sure he could prepare as much as possible after missing the week’s practices with his teammates.
“The guys were awesome about it,” he says. “Obviously there were some things that they practiced on that I missed. But for the most part, I’m a senior now – I’ve been here for three years. So for those things, the coaches pulled me aside on Friday and showed me real quick and I was able to understand them.”
Having made his decision to go back home, Schneider found himself balancing the needs of his family and the help he could have provided his teammates at practice.
In the wake of his family’s tragedy, supporting his relatives was his No. 1 priority.
“They were really, really happy I could be there, especially my mom,” Schneider says. “Dealing with a tough loss like that and not being able to have the support of your whole family is very tough. And I just wanted to be there for my mom and my siblings. I saw that it meant a lot to them.”
“I don’t regret it at all. I was on the fence about going or not going, but I knew my family needed me at home. So I was really glad I went, and I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
It seems even when he’s asking for a favor instead of doing what he’s asked, Schneider does things the right way.