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Getting His Olympic Goal

Getting His Olympic Goal

One goal, no gold.

Mathieu Schneider accomplished only half of what he had hoped to at the XX Winter Olympics in Turin, which ended this week.

Schneider, the only Jewish player on the American hockey team and one of only a few Jews in the National Hockey League, had played in one previous Olympics, in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The Americans finished out of the medals there, and Schneider, a defenseman who has scored nearly 200 goals during an 18-year NHL career, did not score.

The U.S. squad returned from the Games empty-handed again this time, winning just one game of five in the preliminary round and losing its first playoff game, 4-3, to Finland. But Schneider scored his goal, a second period blast from the blue line, which evened the score at 2-2. "I finally got it," Schneider told The Jewish Week in a phone interview after his last game.

Turin was the last Olympics for Schneider, a 36-year-old New York City native. He’ll retire, "barring any injuries" by 40.

Then, he said, it will be time to "establish roots" (he’s played for six NHL teams, including the New York Rangers, and currently the Detroit Red Wings), spend more time with his wife Shannon and their three children, and become more involved in the Jewish community. Because of his concentration on sports as a youth, he had minimal Jewish education. Nonetheless, Schneider has served as a spokesman for Tay-Sachs testing, skipped practices and fasted on Yom Kippur and invited a rabbi to his house for weekly, private lessons about Judaism while playing for the Los Angeles Kings.

"I am a proud Jew and I will bring up my kids to be proud Jews," he said. "As you get older, and especially when you have a family, religion becomes more important. Over the last few years it’s something I’ve become more interested in. It’s important that my kids identify with the Jewish faith."

Schneider’s wife and their two oldest children accompanied him to Turin. "I loved having my family over here." They stayed in an apartment in the middle of the city, visiting museums and sampling Turin’s feted restaurants. "I enjoyed the culture and the food."

He has served as mentor to the few Jewish players he meets in the NHL and has encountered little anti-Semitism in the league, he said, citing only two times players on opposing teams called him anti-Jewish names.

Schneider, 6 feet tall and 191 pounds, took retribution into his own hands.

"I made sure those players paid the price," he said.

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