Mathieu Schneider played 1289 games in the National Hockey League, divided amongst 10 different teams – 11 if you count the Montreal Canadiens twice. After living in one third of the NHL cities it might be hard-pressed for someone to develop any kind of roots or emotional connection to any one particular city.
But 16 years after Schneider signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings he sits outside at a Starbucks in El Segundo, reminiscing about his time in a Kings jersey. He chooses a seat in the sun, hoping to soak up as many SoCal rays as he can before leaving his second home to return to work in Toronto, Canada.
Before deciding to come to LA during the summer of 2000, Schneider knew little about the Kings. Born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, he had played in the East his entire career up until that point, with the exception of his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, while they were still in the Western Conference. Very rarely did he travel to the west coast, but Schneider hadn’t made the playoffs in four years, and being on a good team was important to him.
Schneider knew fellow Kings defenseman, Rob Blake, from their summer training group, and Blake, along with Luc Robitaille, were instrumental in bringing Schneider to LA. Schneider was also friends with Brian Smolinski, whom he had played with on Team USA in a previous World Cup tournament.
His transition to Los Angeles was smooth and seamless, partially due to the fact that he and his wife lived with Smolinski and his wife for the first two months, while the Schneiders’ home was being completed. Both their wives were pregnant at the same time and to this day, remain very good friends.
“The culture out here is laid-back in itself. You go to the rink and the fans are crazy, it’s a great place to play, then you leave and you’re on the beach,” says Schneider about his first impressions. “It was nice because all the guys live really close to each other. You could tell they were close right from the beginning.”
There were a number of guys who made a lasting impression on Schneider from his tenure with the Kings, goalie Jamie Storr being one of them. Schneider describes Storr as “incredibly nice person, but just off his rocker.”
One of Schneider’s earliest memories of Storr came during their first exhibition game together, played in Bakersfield.
“Nobody had warned me about him, and the trainer sat me right next to him,” Schneider says about Storr, whom he knew a little bit from summer training.
“I was never a superstitious guy, but goalies are generally very superstitious, Jamie, in particular, was very superstitious,” Schneider continues. “I go get my coffee, I’m starting to get ready, and Storsy is laying on the ground with his legs up on the bench – I’d never seen this before – and he’s visualizing making saves. His eyes are closed and he’s kind of talking to himself, his hands are moving all over the place.
“I kind of stare at him, and I’m drinking my coffee, and I looked around, and I think it was Glen Murray and a couple of the other guys are pointing at me, they were waiting to see what my reaction was, and they just started dying when they saw me,” Schneider recalls fondly. “I knew better than to bother a goalie during his routine, but later on as the year went on, I was always in the middle of his routine like ‘hey, Storsy, what do you do when it goes 5-hole? You’re not closing up the 5-hole?’ We busted him a lot, but it was all in good fun. He’s a piece of work, no question about it.”
Storr wasn’t the only one to make an impression on Schneider in Los Angeles.
“Stu Grimson was an incredible teammate. He didn’t play an awful lot of minutes, but he was the first one at the rink on gameday,” says Schneider. “I want to say he was a black belt in karate or judo – some of his stretching routines – he could get his leg up over the stall when he was kicking. He used to spend more time preparing for a game than any 10 guys I know.”
Grimson, who earned a law degree and practiced law for a period of time after his playing days were over, is currently a color analyst for the Nashville Predators.
“He had this line all the time ‘who’s having more fun than the 2002-2003 Los Angeles Kings?’ He was constantly keeping the dressing room loose, keeping guys honest, and at the same time was probably one of the toughest guys that ever played the game, he was just a great teammate, a real character,” says Schneider about Grimson.
As Schneider enjoys his afternoon coffee, the memories of his days as a King keep coming back.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jere Karalahti. He was an incredible talent, but just a goof-off off the ice. We were having our rooking meal in Carolina one year, and Jere gets up on his chair, and starts yelling ‘I shoot as hard as Rob Blake, I skate as fast as Rob Blake, but I don’t make anywhere near the money!’” Schneider laughs as he remembers the scene with teammates shouting and encouraging Karalahti’s outburst.
“It was a super group of guys, there was no one on that team that didn’t fit in. It was just a bunch of, almost misfits,” Schneider says about his teammates in Los Angeles.
He still remains friends with, among others, Blake, Murray, and Smolinski – their wives are close, as are their daughters. Schneider, his wife, and their four kids, still keep the Manhattan Beach home they occupied when the children were born. They’ve tried to put it on the market twice, but each time couldn’t continue for more than two days. They save LA for holidays, winter, and even some time in the summer.
“When I played here, I never left. Where are you going to go in the summer that’s better than here?” Schneider wonders aloud.
One of the career highlights from Schneider’s three seasons in LA was the 2003 All-Star Game, played in Sunrise, Florida. (As an exclamation point on the Kings’ 50th Anniversary celebration, the 2017 All-Star Game will be played at STAPLES Center.)
Schneider was the Kings’ only representative that year, but enjoyed the company of Murray, representing the Boston Bruins, and Blake, representing the Colorado Avalanche.
“Dave Lewis was a the coach, who I ended up playing for the next year in Detroit. He goes ‘you and Blakey have played together before, you guys play again together,’” Schneider recounts.
Schneider admits that it may have been easier for his family if he had only played for one or two teams during his career, but interestingly enough, has a pretty solid understanding of why he changed teams so often.
“I was a guy, I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut, I think that’s a lot of the reason I played on so many teams,” says Schneider, who was drafted by the Canadiens in 1987. “I came in, my first year in the league, and I played with guys like Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Brian Skrudland, probably a lot of guys that young fans today wouldn’t know, but to me they were tremendous leaders. My first year when I played a few games in Montreal, Larry Robinson was still there, Rick Green, Bob Gainey, people were just tremendous leaders, and the first thing I learned there from those players was that we’re a team, and we stick together. Whether it’s going out and sticking together against the opposition, or in defense of a teammate, whether it’s the coach or whoever it is.
Continues Schneider: “Times were a lot different back then, but Pat Burns was our coach, and there were many times when players and Pat got physical. Players would go to one-another’s defense, Pat was a real in-your-face kind of guy. That was kind of where I learned. If you’re a captain or an assistant captain, you’re a leader on the team, and part of your job is to stick up for your teammates, whether it’s the coach or whether it’s on the ice. That was ingrained in me early, I had guys stick up for me early in my career, and I always did that. I made sure that if I was a leader on a team, I was going to speak my mind, whether they wanted to hear it or not. I guess you’d only put up with that for so long, depending on the circumstance.”
Now, having retired from his playing career six years ago, Schneider can reflect on his career with good perspective.
“A couple of the trades and free-agent signings were my choice, but in some cases they weren’t my choice. In the end, it’s easy to look back and say ‘I wish this happened differently, or that happened differently,’ but I’m extremely fortunate to play as long as I did, and I saw it all: the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Since his retirement in 2010, Schneider has been working for the NHL Players’ Association, a role that challenges him, but is also enjoyable.
“I’m involved in almost every aspect of what’s going on in the players’ association, and I love it. It’s a lot of fun and we represent 700 of the greatest athletes in the world, and in my humble opinion, some of the greatest guys,” says Schneider proudly. “Hockey players have a reputation of being great guys, and that’s not by mistake.”
Considering his NHL experience and leadership qualities, it is a role that suits Schneider well…especially if it allows him to escape to the Los Angeles sun once in a while.
For half a century, the Los Angeles Kings have been bringing excitement, passion and Stanley Cup glory to Southern California, delighting our deeply loyal fan base by being a leader in incredible events and employing the greatest players in NHL history. The legacy continues as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, striving for innovation in a constant pursuit of excellence with a first-class commitment to our fans and partners, and with an unmatched pledge to improving our community. We Are All Kings.