the heat of a 1991 match, a player for the Buffalo Sabers called
then-Canadiens defenseman Mathieu Schneider a "Jew boy." It was the
first and only time Schneider had ever experienced anything remotely
anti-Semitic in the NHL.
comment — an attempt to tap into Schneider’s on-ice mean streak —
initially enraged Schneider, but he kept his cool, avoided a penalty
and settled it the way most hockey players do — he checked him into the
sideboards in future games. "Every time I played against him after
that," Schneider said, "I went after him as much as I could."
No. 10 for the Los Angeles Kings, has been playing hockey since he was
4 years old. His father Sam, a youth hockey coach who played the game
while growing up in Rhode Island, made sure that Schneider always got
the best training available.
taught from the time you’re a kid to be mean out there and have an
edge," said 31-year-old Schneider. "That helps you to be more
successful. Unless you can score 50 goals, you have to be like that."
addition to influencing Schneider’s professional development, Sam also
had a tremendous impact on his Jewish identity, which has become
increasingly important to Schneider in recent years. Though Schneider
spent his youth on the ice instead of in Hebrew school, Sam took him to
High Holiday services and raised him to "live a good clean life."
New York-born Schneider is no stranger to Los Angeles, locally his name
remains familiar only to hockey and hard-core Jewish sports fans. He is
one of the Kings’ most valuable players, the NHL’s top Jewish scorer
and arguably the greatest Jewish player in the league’s history.
are currently only three other Jewish players in the NHL — Steve
Dubinsky (Chicago Blackhawks), Jeff Halpern (Washington Capitals) and
Ronne Stern (San Jose Sharks) — and nine on minor league teams.
a Stanley Cup veteran, was part of the team that brought gold home from
the 1996 World Cup, represented America in the 1998 Olympics and wants
to play Salt Lake City in 2002. During Wayne Gretzky’s last game, he
helped the Great One score the final goal of his career.
in West New York and Toms River, N.J., Schneider first experienced the
joy of skating when Sam took him to Rockefeller Center at the age of 3.
mother, Aline, a French-Canadian from Thetford Mines, Quebec, converted
to Judaism to marry his father. (The couple divorced in 1981, but Aline
continues to identify as a Jew.)
competed against his French-Canadian cousins during family trips to New
England, and Sam oversaw his training until he was old enough to attend
Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island, a private Catholic high
school with a top-ranked hockey program. "I actually learned the most
about Judaism in my world religion class there," Schneider said.
signing with the Kings, Schneider had spent four off-seasons living in
Santa Monica and regularly worked out with former Kings defenseman Rob
Blake at Gold’s Gym. It was his friendship with Blake that helped seal
a one-year, $2 million contract with the Kings, with an option for the
For Schneider, whose attitude off the ice is markedly laid back, the beach life of Southern California is a perfect fit.
appreciates that Los Angeles, like other towns he’s played for —
Toronto, Montreal and New York — has a large Jewish community. "There’s
definitely a connection between Jews wherever you go," he said. "You
immediately feel at home."
Montreal, he lived "right in the Jewish area of town." In New York,
Schneider served as a spokesperson for Tay-Sachs testing, rode a cherry
picker to light the first candle of what he described as "the world’s
largest menorah" in front of a Long Island temple, and joked with
fellow Rangers that the NHL Christmas break should be a Chanukah break
to allow for more days off.
"The older I get, the more I think about religion," said Schneider, who married Toronto native Shannon Snider in 1999.
isn’t Jewish, but she’s been heavily influenced by her husband’s
growing exploration of his Jewish heritage and wants to convert. "This
summer we’re planning on going to Hebrew school together," Schneider
strong desire to raise his son, 3-month-old Mathieu Jr., as a Jew has
also contributed to his wife’s plans for conversion.
couple recently purchased a home in Manhattan Beach, where they’ll
continue living after Schneider retires in the next five years, even if
the Kings don’t pick up his option for 2001-02.
said he’s probably going to seek a job in personal training after his
hockey career is over, and the family will eventually join a
congregation when his life settles. "I enjoy temple. I probably
wouldn’t go on a weekly basis, but I would definitely go on the High
Holidays and be part of the community."
Discount tickets are still available for the first Jewish Journal Kings
Night, Thurs., March 29, at 7:30 p.m. For more information or reservations, call
Marc Entin at (213) 742-7187 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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