Comets Tales: Corey Schwab Returns to Utica
by Don LaibleMar 4, 2016
So….who remembers the Howard Johnson Motel on Utica's North Genesee Street? Springfield Falcons' goaltending coach Corey Schwab can.
Schwab, 45, played his last game as a Utica Devil in 1993, before the existence of the DVD.
A Calder Cup (with the 1995 Albany River Rats), a Stanley Cup (with the 2003 New Jersey Devils), 147 National Hockey League games guarding net for four teams, given all the highs a pro could only dream of as a child growing up, and Schwab easily throws around details about his two seasons honing his craft at The AUD, some two decades-plus ago.
As a coach, Schwab has many experiences to draw upon when getting across to his students as to what may elevate them to hockey's grandest stage. It's that simple. For most athletes, it's those formative years where habits are made and routines mentally etched. Schwab’s pupils, this season in the Arizona Coyotes system, will no doubt learn much of what it takes to grow in the AHL, from the former Utica Devil.
This season, Schwab is responsible for the Coyotes' minor league goaltenders and assists in goalie evaluations. Be it prepping for games at The AUD or when the Comets visit the MassMutual Center, wearing a Utica Devils jersey will be on Schwab's mind.
Utica has changed, more than a smidge, since the spring of 1993 - the final season of the Devils in the city. Louis LaPolla was mayor, $1.16 was the average price of a gallon of gasoline, and the Riverside Mall (not far from the Howard Johnson) was still in operation.
"I started the year in Utica, and spent the last couple of weeks of the season with Cincinnati (Cyclones) in the ECHL," said Schwab, who was between the pipes on The AUD’s ice for 24 games his rookie Devils campaign.
Coming into Utica, as a 21-year-old, looking back, Schwab remembers being ready to make the jump as a pro.
Living with billet families in Seattle, while playing juniors for three seasons, Schwab credits that time for allowing him to adjust to on and off-ice experiences. It would also offer a tremendous boost to Schwab's driving abilities, as he drove from the Pacific Northwest to the Mohawk Valley.
Drafted by New Jersey in 1990 in the 10th round (200th overall), Schwab's new teammates were waiting in Utica. On the backs of Utica jerseys were names as Zelepukin, Hankinson, Guerin, and Dowd. The sign on the coach's door read – Herb Brooks, you may have heard of him. Come Calder Cup Playoff time in 1992, Utica was quickly eliminated in round one.
Having a coach as famous and equally respected with college, Olympic, and NHL experience to offer, Schwab still doesn't know if he was more intimidated or in awe of his first coach on Oriskany Boulevard. Which might be why, until days before the season was underway, did Schwab get word that he made the team.
"It came down to two goalies," explained Schwab, who lives in Seattle (WA), and splits his work schedule predominately in Arizona and Springfield. "Herb forgot to tell us that we made the team. I had been living at the Howard Johnson Motel in Utica. I didn't want to look for an apartment until I knew that I would be sticking around. Chad Erickson and I then rented a house."
Having his gear packed and unpacked in three AHL cities (Utica, Albany, Syracuse) and four NHL tours (New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Vancouver), from 1991-2004, Schwab knows a thing or two about hockey audiences. But, just as those who have passed through the Valley for Comets games over the past three years, the passion displayed at Utica hockey games remains imbedded for Schwab.
"What I remember most about playing in Utica, was that there was always energy; the fans were excited," recalled Schwab, who in 1995 shared with Albany teammate Mike Dunham the "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award, for allowing the fewest goals against in an AHL season. "We were a young team, and very physical."
This sticks in Schwab's memory because, as he recalls, being "tough" didn't tie into Brooks' puck possession style.
"I enjoyed that style; speed and moving the puck," said the former Utica goalie.
While splitting duties with Erickson during season one in Utica, Schwab saw action in 24 games, during a year that the club posted a 34-40-6 record. Long before the internet was what it is today, no cell phone or GPS on his car's dash to aid in his travels, Schwab fondly speaks of his 20-hour, three-day journey from his home in North Battleford, a small city in west Central Saskatchewan to New Jersey.
"I didn't know where Utica was at first. But, it's part of the pro lifestyle (being on the road)," said Schwab. That first season in Utica, Schwab tells of not making it home for Christmas. Some of his teammates that were from the east, did go home for the break.
Year two in Utica, for Schwab, saw a few new faces as well as familiar names in the Devils' locker room. Jerseys hanging in the stalls read - Severyn, Vilgrain, Roberge, and Brodeur. This team, led by new coach Robbie Ftorek, counted on Schwab in 40 games, and saw his win-loss record come in at 18-16-5, up from the previous season's 9-12-1.
"Robbie is my favorite coach," states Schwab, who collected the Jack Butterfield Trophy (AHL Playoff MVP) in 1995 with the Albany River Rats. "He (Ftorek) was the first non-goalie coach I had who paid a lot of attention to guys in my position. There he was, 30 minutes before practice, working with us goalies."
As for Schwab's thoughts on just how successful his fellow Utica Devils goalie Marty Brodeur would become, based on what he witnessed in 1992-93, there is a simple answer - no. "Robbie was full energy. You sensed that he was trying to get everyone to be the best that they could, and that included me and Marty. I'm grateful for the time and attention Robbie gave to all of us."
It's these positive takeaways of Ftorek, Brooks, and his developing years in Utica that the Coyotes have bought into, in signing Schwab. Splitting time in Springfield, as well as with the Rapid City (South Dakota) Rush in the ECHL, Schwab is there for those 21-year-olds that are waiting to get their careers into overdrive.
Also, among Schwab's goaltending coaching responsibilities is to make visits to his adopted hometown of Seattle to work with a Coyotes draftee, now playing for the WHL's Thunderbirds. Schwab is hopeful that while visiting Springfield, the Comets will either be opponents or he'll be around to take the three hour bus trip west to Utica, and see The AUD once again.
Nothing but positive accolades about Utica's return to the AHL are what Schwab has heard - and he isn't surprised. Next, seeing is believing. Going back to the future, for Corey Schwab, sounds like a plan.