Q&A: CSU’s Justin Schneeberger
If you’ve ever been to a CSU club men’s ice hockey match, you might’ve seen one player who isn’t afraid to play rough. A no-nonsense player who sticks up for his teammates and is often seen knocking opponents into the walls of the rink. A player who doesn’t hesitate to cross the line to send a message, even if it means ending up in the penalty box.
This player is Colorado State University’s Justin Schneeberger — Schnee among his teammates — who has just finished up his junior season as a right wing for the Colorado State team.
Being a college athlete hasn’t been his only success in the realm of hockey. Prior to being at CSU, he played for the North Bay Trappers in the NOJHL, a Canadian junior ice hockey league. After a successful two years, he decided to return home to Fort Collins.
The 23 year old from Littleton, Colorado, is currently studying Communications (with a German minor), all while juggling hockey commitments and a part-time job at Austin’s American Grill.
I sat down with him at Road 34 to discuss being a college athlete, his love for the sport, the lessons he’s learned and his goals for the future. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
When did you start playing ice hockey?
Schneeberger: I started as a toddler when I would pretend to play hockey in my basement. When I was four my parents gave me my first pair of roller blades and I remember falling all over the place.
I’ve been playing hockey in a team since I was five years old though. I lived in a cul-de-sac with a bunch of kids who played street hockey and it took one summer for my parents to decide I should play on the ice. My dad was a big basketball player — he was drafted in the NBA — so I’m the first kid in my family to play hockey.
What made you pick ice hockey over basketball?
Schneeberger: I played both growing up, but it came down to my friends. I had better friends in hockey.
What is it about the sport that you love?
Schneeberger: I think the cool thing about ice hockey is that it’s such a tough sport. It’s so hard. In American football, you can run into the sidelines to avoid getting hit, but in hockey it’s a closed area. There’s no avoiding getting hit. I like the tough aspect of it because when I was a kid I got bullied a lot and I [liked] leaving it all out on the ice.
Getting into the CSU team….what was the process?
Schneeberger: There are tryouts that are really tough. Then building a relationship with the coaches and coaching staff early. When I was in Canada, I emailed the coach at CSU and said “Look, I’m thinking about playing hockey for CSU next year while I study there”. Also making sure you’re in shape to play college hockey too.
What’s the workout regime like? How often do you train?
Schneeberger: We have a coach called Alex Breedan — who used to be a marine — who takes us up to Horsetooth at 5am to run once a week for the first half of the season. We also have three practices a week and we play two games on the weekend.
Have you ever suffered any serious injuries?
Schneeberger: I’ve had to get stitches on my face five times from a hockey stick.
Anyone that watches your games would say you’re a bit of a fighter. Is that a tactic? How do you use that to your advantage?
Schneeberger: The cool thing about hockey is that every player has [his or her] role. For example, I might not score every game but I’m always going to hit someone [laughs]. Or block a shot…play defence. It’s not really recommended that you fight in college hockey but in the NOJHL, a fight could spark your team. It kind of gets the team going and gives the team energy. It gives the crowd energy…that’s what the crowd wants to see, right?
What lessons have you learned from playing ice hockey?
Schneeberger: Never quit — never give up on your dreams, because you never really know where you’ll go unless you don’t give it your all. When I was playing at high school level, I had no idea what was happening and I was working hard playing the sport that I love. And all of a sudden, this coach from Canada contacts me and says, “I saw you play…you should come play for my team in Canada” and look how far that got me.
In Canada, I learned a lot about myself because that’s all I was doing…no work, no school, just hockey. And you learn a lot about yourself at that age (18–21). But there’s definitely more to life than hockey. In Canada, we’d give back to the community by visiting schools and telling them the importance of [education] and getting good grades and being healthy. The most valuable thing in life is giving someone your time.
Who’s been your biggest influence?
Schneeberger: My coach Tom McCarthy (former Head Coach of the North Bay Trappers) played in the NHL and he was one of those guys that taught me that hockey is, you know, hockey and life are the same. When you have your highs and lows…if that makes sense…if you’re doing really well at hockey then you’re going to be doing really well at life. If you aren’t doing well at hockey, that reflects off the ice. One thing Tommy taught me was attitude and approach. He [served time in prison] and coming out of that was all about attitude and approach.
How much do you think you’ve changed as a player?
Schneeberger: As a kid, I was always a goal scorer. But once I got into higher levels of hockey my role changed to…hurting other people [laughs]. I’m the biggest guy on the CSU hockey team so they need someone to protect their little guys.
Do you have a pre-game routine?
Schneeberger: I don’t have any superstitions; I like to mix it up. If there’s one pre-game routine, I have a bagel sandwich before every match.
Do you have dreams of going pro?
Schneeberger: Of course. But at the same time, the main importance of playing college sport is being a student athlete and getting a degree. But there are always options after college hockey.
If you could pick what NHL team you’d play for, who would it be?
Schneeberger: Oh my gosh. Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s nothing better than going to the rink in a convertible while wearing sandals, then going into the cold ice rink [laughs]. Well, yeah, a team in Florida would be nice.
What are your goals for next season?
Schneeberger: Stay out of the penalty box!