September 12, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Wally Schreiber

Few Canadian hockey players devoted themselves to Team Canada as completely as Wally Schreiber.

The three time Olympian may not rank high in the hierarchy of Canadian international hockey history. Paul Henderson, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby probably have never even heard of him.

But in the 1990s Schreiber was a mainstay and in many ways the heart of the Canadian men's national team.

But it was never easy for the small speedster from Edmonton. 

The late bloomer only played one season of major junior hockey, scoring 56 goals and 124 points with the Regina Pats in 1981-82. That got him drafted by the Washington Capitals in the very late stages of the 1982 Entry Draft. 152nd overall, in the eighth round, to be exact.

Schreiber attended a couple of training camps but never signed with the NHL team. Instead he toiled in anonymity for four seasons as a leading scorer for the Fort Wayne Komets of the International Hockey League.

In 1986 Schreiber redirected his goals and committed to Dave King's Canadian National Team. With 40 goals in that 1986-87 season in international competition, Schreiber provided badly needed offense. He could skate with the best on the bigger ice surface, and his defensive game began rounding out under King.

Schreiber returned to the Nats the next season, with high hopes of Olympic glory on home ice. The 1988 Winter Olympics were held in Calgary, Alberta that year.

There was only one problem - the International Olympic Committee changed their rules to allow professionals to represent all nations.

Hockey fans would have to wait another decade before the National Hockey League allowed its best players all to represent their homelands. But Team Canada, looking to medal on home ice, forged alliances with NHL teams in hopes of landing some borrowed help. And they did, landing the likes of Jim Peplinski, Tim Watters and Steve Tambellini. The team also had Randy Gregg (wishing to return to the Olympics) and Andy Moog (NHL contract dispute) for the balance of the whole season.

But that was tough on the National Team players who committed to the Olympic goal all season but always fearing they would get bumped by a big league loaner. 

"That's in the back of everybody's mind," Schreiber said. "I've been with the team for nearly two years and it certainly would hurt to be dropped.
"The coach has explained the situation to us, that it could happen if somebody better comes along. He laid it down and we have to accept it. It's logical.
"Nobody on this team would be ready for it, but it would have to be accepted as part of the game. I'm sure if it does happen there will be a few people really pissed off."
For Schreiber it ended up not being a concern. Though his offense shrank in that second season, he remained a vital part of Canada's offense, along with the likes of Brian Bradley, Marc Habscheid and Serge Boisvert.
In the end, Schreiber scored just once, and Canada, despite promise, finished out of the medals in fourth place.
Immediately after the Olympics Schreiber jumped to Minnesota North Stars and showed good promise with six goals and eleven points in sixteen games to end the NHL season. But he would have trouble sticking with the North Stars the next season, scoring just twice in 25 games. In the final year of his contract he badly injured his shoulder and only played in five games in the minor leagues. 
With no NHL contract offers coming his way, Schreiber headed to Germany where he starred until the turn of the century. It was a good living, making significantly more money than he would in the minor leagues, tax free at that. The teams would often provide a house and car on top of it too. Eventually Schreiber became a German citizen and raised his kids there.
Throughout his European adventures, Schreiber always remained loyal to Team Canada. He played in the occasional games with the National Team when his schedule allowed, though surprisingly never got the chance to represent his country at a World Championship tournament.
But Schreiber did get the chance to return to two more Olympics, helping Canada win hard-fought silver medals in 1992 and 1994. 

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