Schroeder’s homecoming: Former University of Minnesota star showcasing his evolving game
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There are two misconceptions about Jordan Schroeder. One he can quickly correct. The other remains a work in progress.
While the Vancouver Canucks centre was born in Prior Lake, Minn., he was raised in bordering Lakeville, which is only a 37-minute drive southwest from the Xcel Energy Center. That’s where the former University of Minnesota star will make a happy homecoming Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, a destination many thought the diminutive centre would never reach after being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. After all, his 5-foot-8 frame was cited — ahead of an emerging speedy and smart game that is now far removed from being one-dimensional.
While Schroeder can’t change perception — or what may happen when Ryan Kesler and David Booth return, or a centre is acquired through a trade — he never changed his goal of gravitating toward a game that was foreign to his father, John, who played basketball, football and college baseball. And his mom, Deb, excelled in gymnastics and cross-country running.
Maybe dad saw a budding point guard.
“He put a basketball in my hands first and I told him no, I wanted to play hockey,” recalled the 22-year-old Schroeder, who started skating at age four and was playing by six. “We had a great neighbourhood and we’d basically play street hockey or pond hockey every day after school.
“The lake would freeze and we’d shovel it off and get a net out there and play for hours.”
In the State of Hockey that’s a common story, but Schroeder’s ascent isn’t common. He was always small on the ice and smart in school. But his biggest break didn’t come under the tutelage of legendary Golden Gophers coach Don Lucia or the U.S. National Team Development Program at Ann Arbor. Mich. It was his two years at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn., where coach Tom Vannelli took a chance on a 14-year-old kid, who was playing against 18-year-olds. The military cadet prep school won one of its four state championships in 2006, with Schroeder paying back his coach’s confidence.
The Canucks will practise in Mendota Heights on Wednesday. How fitting.
“He gave me a chance in the eighth grade when nobody else would, because I was so young,” said Schroeder of Vannelli. “I proved to him and the whole state that I could play high school hockey. I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs growing up, and my favourite player was Joe Sakic. I had a poster of him on my wall because we didn’t have a team when the North Stars left (in 1993).
“So I grew up watching the Gophers and wanted to play there — that’s my dream. And hopefully, some day play in the NHL. It’s all kind of fallen into place.”
Yes, it has. But it’s been far from a straight-line transition.
Before Schroeder played his first regular-season game on Jan. 23, and collected his first assist two nights later, he had to become the consummate professional, develop a two-way game and leave that college comfort zone in the rear-view mirror. Schroeder had to realize that those 45 points he piled up in 32 games as the youngest member of the Gophers in 2008-09 were good enough to earn rookie-of-the-year honours, but they weren’t a ticket to the NHL.
The hopes were high but so were the disappointments. In the spring of 2011, when the Manitoba Moose were eliminated from the AHL playoffs, the Canucks summoned a number of players to Vancouver. Schroeder wasn’t one of them, because he didn’t deserve to be. Then, on Dec. 1, during the NHL lockout, he was a healthy scratch for the Chicago Wolves along with Zack Kassian. But after nine goals and 19 points in 30 AHL games this season, Schroeder got the call.
He has responded with a flair for creativity and responsibility. On Monday in Edmonton, Schroeder dodged Mark Fistric, who intended to deliver a sideboards check and instead left the Oilers defenceman with a back injury. During the Canucks’ 3-2 overtime victory, Schroeder also started on the second line.
“I’m glad they didn’t rush me,” he reasoned. “I’ve paid my dues in the minors and I’ve learned a lot and it’s been paying off. At the time, it’s: ‘What is going on?’ I want to be up there (recalled) and you realize that you’ve put in the work and deserve it. I even went into college early and a lot of people don’t even know that.”
Wolves coach Scott Arniel likes Schroeder’s straight-line approach in the NHL instead of the neutral-zone circling in the AHL. Hounding pucks, making plays and being responsible could keep him up — and not be sent back down to the minors.
“It’s his quickness and ability to use that to push the defence back,” said Arniel. “He looks comfortable and doesn’t look intimidated or out of his element. That’s a good sign.”
Schroeder knows he can’t give up much in the defensive zone and has to be on the right side of pucks. The points will come if that’s the thought process.
“I’m trying to gain as much trust from the coach — that’s part of the process that’s being going on for two years,” stressed Schroeder. “I’m learning to play a two-way game and now it kind of comes instinctively.”
Schroeder was ranked ninth in the draft and dropped down to the Canucks at No. 22. Some teams questioned his size and ability to handle the rigours of the NHL.
“So far, he hasn’t looked out of place,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “We’re confident he’s going to continue to use what he has. He’s a smart and good player with a lot of intangibles.”
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