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Schneider stops Sharks 3-1 at MTS Centre

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WINNIPEG — If that was Cory Schneider’s last game as a Manitoba Moose, it was one to remember.

Schneider was nothing short of brilliant, making 34 saves to stop the Worcester Sharks 3-1 at the MTS Centre.

Manitoba’s main man in net is a sought-after prospect, if some NHL rumours are to be believed.

The Vancouver Canucks, who drafted him in the first round of 2004, are eager to improve their Northwest Division lead and take a run at the Stanley Cup.

What will it cost to improve the Canucks’ front line, or defence? That’s not known, but Schneider’s a piece for the NHL team to play because it has No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo locked up for a dozen years.

"I’m a bit redundant in the organization because they already have him for such a long time," the Marblehead, Mass., native said after Tuesday morning’s skate. "It’d be tough to leave here and everyone I know and met here. But it’d also be an exciting opportunity."

Of the rumours that make any sense, it seems likeliest Schneider could go to the Atlanta Thrashers or Philadelphia Flyers, both teams with large goaltending questions.

The former star of the Boston College Eagles has learned much about being a starting goalie in the spotlight. He has played nine of the last 11 and all but four Moose games of the second half as he improved his record to 26-18-1 on the season.

Schneider, who will be 24 in two weeks, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, when his entry-level three-year contract expires. Then, he will have some measure of leverage, given that it’s plain for all to see he is not the Canucks’ future.

If Vancouver had to re-sign him, it would be nearly impossible to peg a fair value, a constant assessment tug-of-war about Schneider’s potential but lack of NHL experience.

Schneider’s lone NHL start this season was a stellar effort in a 2-1 loss in Dallas, but it’s hard to hang value on just one game.

Overall, Schneider has been more than consistent in his 121 games in a Moose uniform with a record of 74-40-4, and 15 more playoff wins.

It didn’t start that well, as Schneider’s rookie season was as tumultuous as his last two seasons were successful.

In the early going, he couldn’t seem to stop anything — even on a 99-point team — and suffered a few embarrassing hooks before the half-way point.

A scolding from his coach sparked a turnaround in the second half and Schneider eventually won the starter’s job away from Drew MacIntyre for the playoffs.

And those playoffs against Syracuse, that was the start of another thing Schneider isn’t likely to miss playing for the Moose.

With his play improving constantly, the classy Crunch followed by a host of other teams — including Toronto and Grand Rapids in last spring’s playoffs — ran over and into him time and again, obviously trying to get him off his game.

Certainly, those opponents were given far too many free passes by overwhelmed AHL referees but to his credit, Schneider was a top-flight professional from the first such ugly incident on, rarely complaining about it and always refashioning incidents as learning experiences that will make him better.

And again last night. Run over by Worcester’s Dan DaSilva in the second period — again, no penalty — he came straight back and made his best two saves of the night, one on a Steven Zalewski breakaway that never had a chance.

And if he’s going to the NHL, another thing Schneider won’t miss is the sketchy and unreliable officiating, which has way too much bearing on many AHL games.

Great example from Tuesday’s first period, when referee Ghislain Hebert called a phantom interference penalty on Lawrence Nycholat, setting up Worcester’s power play goal into an empty side 10 seconds later.

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