Dino takes top rookie honors in west

By Collin Gallant

"I haven’t really heard anything about it," said a bewildered Eric Schneider on the phone when arranging an interview. "Some of my friends were telling me they saw it in the paper, but I haven’t heard for sure."

According to the press release it’s true.

Dinosaurs rookie Schneider has earned Freshman of the Year honours in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. And it’s not hard to believe.

Schneider is coming off an incredible rookie season with the Dinos men’s hockey team. He ended the 1998/99 campaign with 24 goals in 28 games leaving him tied for most goals with University of Alberta Golden Bear Russ Hewson and third for total points.

The Tri-Cities Americans of the Western Hockey League had the first shot at the play-making centre, but at the time, the team was too deep to give much of a chance to permanently crack the line-up. That year, the Americans boasted five first-round National Hockey League draft picks and a continent-wide number-one ranking among junior teams.

"I think that maybe the timing hurt me a little bit," said Schneider. "I’m what you’d call a late bloomer. I only really started to improve drastically in the last couple years. I didn’t really get a chance to prove myself."

Tri-Cities’ loss.

The Drayton Valley, Alberta native played only 38 games in the WHL before age made him ineligible.

Calgary’s gain.

By the end of his inaugural season in Dinos red and white, Schneider had a hand in 44 per cent of team scoring. In conference play, he scored 25 per cent of the Dinos goals, including a four-goal effort against the University of Manitoba Bisons.

With those kinds of numbers, there might be a feeling of pressures from the team to carry more weight. Not so, according to the soft-spoken sniper, who feels he puts enough pressure on himself.

"I felt that if I didn’t produce there was that much more chance we wouldn’t win. There are lots of situations on the ice when you’re not expected to perform but you want to perform and you force yourself to perform," said Schneider.

"We couldn’t be more pleased with him," said Dinos Head Coach Tim Bothwell who spotted Schneider on a spring recruiting trip to British Columbia. "He is extremely dangerous offensively. When he’s on the ice he is a threat to score and he can score from anywhere. There are areas where he can improve and he’s made an effort."

Bothwell added that Schneider is only a first-year player, giving him lots of time to round out his defensive game.

According to Schneider, it was Bothwell’s tenacity that shaped his decision to come to the U of C after junior.

"It was between the U of C and the U of A, but [Coach Bothwell] just kept calling me and calling me until finally I said ‘yes.’"

With so many Dinos veterans leaving the line-up after the 1997/98 season there would be ample room to step up and play a large role on the team.

"It was a chance to step in [to the line-up] right away and contribute. Whenever you start with 18 new faces you got to come together. We had a drastic improvement over the year. Slowly but surely we did that and we turned a lot of heads. Winning the first round of the playoffs was huge for us and a building block for next year."

The Dinos’ playoff run was a little short for Schneider’s tastes, but he played a solid role, scoring five goals and three assists in three games against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns and two against the U of A Golden Bears.

Although he claims to love Calgary, he remains true to his first hockey love, the Edmonton Oilers, and describes his favourite hockey moment as the night Wayne Gretzky scored five goals to give him 50 goals in 39 games.

"I love playing in Edmonton just because my friends and family come out. There’s something about Edmonton rinks," said Schneider of the post-season atmosphere in the capital.

If things go according to plan for Schneider and the Dinos, they’ll be back in Edmonton moving the twine and beating in Golden Bear heads this time next year.

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