By Jason Karnosky
On November 6, 2021, Admirals forward Cole Schneider pulled off an unprecedented feat in American Hockey League (AHL) history.
Schneider, the recently minted Admirals’ captain, scored a hat trick without ever shooting the puck or touching it with his stick. Schneider’s stunning performance carried Milwaukee to a 5-2 win over the Iowa Wild and sparked his team’s turnaround from a slow start to the season.
“I was going to the net hard that night and got three goals to go in off of my foot,” Schneider said. “My game is about trying to play the right way, and part of that is always going to the net. I know people that night remembered how the hat trick happened. But at the end of the year all anyone is going to remember the number of goals I scored and not how they went in.”
For Admirals coach Karl Taylor, Schneider’s unique goal-scoring outburst was a prime example of the type of play he brings every night to Milwaukee—especially the leader’s incessant drive to get to the blue paint.
“Cole’s probably the first person ever to score a hat trick without using his stick, so that was a big night for him and our team,” Taylor said. “He ended up having a few pucks go off of him, but by going to net he was giving himself an opportunity to score. If he doesn’t go to the net, and set the standard for our team by creating those opportunities, then those goals don’t happen.”
With the Admirals not playing in 2020-21, it certainly would have been easy for Milwaukee general manager Scott Nichol to forget about the veteran forward. Nights like November 6 were a big reason why Milwaukee’s brass found a way to bring the 31-year-old Schneider back to the Cream City.
“I haven’t seen a guy get a hat trick without having the puck ever touch his stick in a long time, and I thought that was pretty fantastic,” Nichol said. “But Cole’s the kind of guy that you want to bring back to your team. He’s a guy that is vested into the city, vested into the Admirals, and has a vested interest in our wins and losses. He’s getting up there in age, but he still keeps himself in good shape. It was a no brainer for me to bring him back to the Admirals.”
Schneider, who already knew the organization well, knew he would be a good fit in Milwaukee.
“From owner Harris Turer, to Scott Nichol, to coach Taylor and the other coaches, I had such a good relationship with all of those guys from my time here before the pandemic,” Schneider said. “It was such an easy answer to say yes to them when they came calling and asking me to play here again this season. It kind of felt like coming home.”
Schneider has paid off Milwaukee’s investment with a stellar start to the season. He leads the 2021-22 Admirals (12-13-2-0, .481 points percentage) with 11 goals and 26 points, and is sits tied fourth overall in AHL scoring despite missing a pair of games in the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
“Cole’s had a great run to start the season, and that’s despite a two-week run when he had COVID-19 along with a few other people on our team,” Taylor said. “He’s one of the top players in the league in scoring, and he’s done a very good job helping our young guys and guiding them.”
Schneider’s professional hockey odyssey started 10 years ago, when the Williamsville, New York native joined the AHL’s Binghamton Senators for the 2011-12 season after two impressive years of playing college hockey at the University of Connecticut. Back then the undrafted rookie was hardly an impact player, scoring just two points in his first 11 AHL games.
Over the next few years Schneider developed into a dependable scoring forward in the AHL. He posted back-to-back 20-plus goal campaigns in upstate New York—including a career high 29-goal season in 2014-15.
“Cole’s maybe not the most polished hockey player, but he’s very smart and he goes to the areas where you need to be to score goals,” Nichol said. “He leads by example, he leads in our locker room, and he goes about his business in the right way. It is good for our young guys to have someone like that on our team.”
A 2015-16 midseason trade from Ottawa to the Buffalo organization marked the moment when Schneider really came into his own as a professional hockey player. That season Schneider got his first taste of National Hockey League (NHL) action, playing in a pair of games for the Sabres in April 2016.
The following year Schneider posted the highest point total of his career, 63, which topped the Rochester Americans. He also earned his first NHL point during a four-game fall stint in Buffalo. Schneider assisted on the Sabres’ only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on November 9, 2016. That helper remains Schneider’s lone NHL point.
After two more full AHL seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, including one as team captain, Schneider found his way to Milwaukee via a midseason trade orchestrated by Nichol. The transaction rejuvenated Schneider, as the veteran forward has been scoring at a point-a-game clip with the Admirals ever since. That spring Schneider also played in the AHL playoffs for the first time since 2014.
During the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign, Schneider was having a big season with the high flying Admirals. Through 54 games prior to the pandemic pause, the 6-foot-one-inch tall forward ranked as his team’s second leading scorer, helping Milwaukee capture the AHL regular season title.
“Cole really enjoyed his time with the Admirals when we traded for him from Hartford,” Nichol said. “I think he’s really fallen in love with the city, living in Milwaukee, and living the sports life here. He and his family are very happy here.”
With the Admirals sitting out the 2020-21 season, Schneider moved on to the Texas Stars where he again served as team captain.
“When we didn’t have a team last year, we tried to assist some players in finding a place to play and Cole was one of those guys,” Taylor said. “Having coached in Texas for a number of years, when Cole went there last season I was very concerned that he wouldn’t come back. When he was named captain there, I was like oh boy (we may have lost him).”
Playing on his fifth AHL team, Schneider had a solid year in the Lone Star state, scoring 28 points in 36 games. This summer Taylor wanted to ensure that Schneider found his way back to Wisconsin after the stint in Texas.
“You can ask Scott Nichol, but I may have brought up Cole’s name a couple of times [last] summer as someone I would love to have back in Milwaukee,” Taylor said. “Getting Cole back here was something I was pushing for and I just felt like it would be a good fit. Cole and I have an easy relationship with the kind of player he is.”
On October 16, 2021, Schneider took the mantle as team captain. He joined the likes of Jarred Tinordi, Colton Sissons, Nolan Yonkman, Tony Hrkac, Gino Cavallini, and Andrew McBain, who have all worn the “C” in Milwaukee.
“Cole’s a familiar face for our organization, and a guy who understands our culture and knows our identity,” former Admirals captain and current Milwaukee assistant coach Scott Ford said. “It’s not always pretty with Cole, but he goes to the net and leads by example. His (November 6) hat trick was a prime example of that.”
Being the Admirals captain is even more important this season after Milwaukee did not play in 2020-21. With many players who are new to the organization joining the team this year, the Admirals were in need of consistent leadership—something Schneider always provides.
“We have a lot of new faces on the team this year,” Ford said. “Cole’s done a good job helping his teammates get up to speed with how we want to play.”
Schneider’s been at the forefront of a team that has been finding its stride as of late, having won five games in a row in early December and then picking up two more big wins during Christmas week.
“Cole is our captain and there is a reason for that because he’s a good leader and a player we can trust,” Taylor said. “As a coaching staff, we really believe in having our players go to the net. That is a strength of Cole and it is something he does very well. He leads our team in scoring playing that way, so I don’t think him getting that hat trick was an accident.”
On the scoresheet, Schneider has been red hot as of late. He started the season with a pair of goals on opening night, and then posted a 3-point performance on November 21. Recently Schneider racked up four assists in a December 4 contest in Cleveland, added another two-goal night the following week in Iowa, and scored a game-winner on December 21 in Rockford. All five of those games were decisive Milwaukee wins.
“We started off a little slow and would have liked to get off to a better start,” Schneider said. “We’ve been playing a lot better lately and we are feeling a lot better about ourselves as a team. It was nice to string together a few wins in a row and we are going to keep building off of that.”
Schneider and the Admirals hope to continue their hot play as the calendar turns to 2022. Milwaukee returns to action for its final two games of 2021 starting on Thursday, December 30, when the Admirals host Rockford at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.