skip navigation

Special Q&A: Buzz Schneider Talks Gophers, Olympics, Beating Russia & Life After Hockey

02/18/2014, 8:30pm CST
By Thom Wynn

Buzz Schneider was one of many Gophers who were involved in the 1980 Miracle On Ice, one of the greatest sports moments ever.

William "Buzz" Schneider, nicknamed the "Babbit Rabbit" and "Iron Lung", played hockey for the University of Minnesota during the 72-73 and 73-74 seasons. In 1974 he played for the first Gophers National Championship team since 1940, which was the first of three NCAA Titles won under the late Herb Brooks.


Schneider came to the Gophers out of Babbit High School, where he was a 1972 All-State First teamer in Hockey, and named to Minnesota's Top 100 Greatest Players in High School Hockey History. He also excelled at Football, and was a professional Baseball prospect. He was described as a dominant hockey player on undermanned teams in Babbitt, and garnered a lot of attention in High School, despite playing on a team that was regularly overmatched playing on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. Schneider earned his nicknames and reputation as a player who rarely left the ice in High School, and was moved to Defense his senior year, allowing him to stay on the ice longer. Despite the move back to the blue line, he still led the team in scoring.


In his two years at the U of M, Schneider amassed 31 goals and 24 assists In 74 games. He shared the Frank Pond Rookie of Year Award with Defenseman Dick Spannbauer in his Freshman year, 1972-73, and was named one of the 50 greatest players in U of M Hockey history as part of the "Legends on Ice" tribute in 2001. In 1974, he was drafted by both the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL, and the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHL.


He left the Gopher hockey program a year early for a chance to play on the U.S. Olympic team at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. That year, the team finished out of medal contention, in fifth place. But Schneider took what he had learned in those Olympics, and used that knowledge to help propel the 1980 Olympic team to their now legendary gold medal run. For the most part, he flew under the radar on that team, despite scoring the first goal against Vladislav Tretiak and the Soviet Union, and tying fellow Gopher Rob McClanahan for the team lead in scoring with 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points in 7 games.


In all, Buzz Schneider played in two Olympics (1976 & 1980), and five World Championships (1974-77 & 1982) for the United States. Along with his teammates from the '80 Olympic Hockey Team, he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1980. In 2003, Schneider and his teammates were inducted into both the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. After the '80 Olympics he played in Bern, Switzerland until his retirement from Hockey in 1983.


After being forced to retire because of a back issue in 1983, he came back to Minnesota and worked as a Sales Executive for a semi-trailer company, while living in Shoreview with his wife Gayle and sons Billy and Neal. In a side note, Billy Schneider played Buzz in the 2004 movie, Miracle. Billy was offered the part before the Director even knew he was Buzz’s son. And before his acting opportunity, Billy was a Gopher Baseball recruit in 1999. For the same reason his Dad was forced to retire from hockey, Billy was forced out of baseball due to a back injury. Buzz quit his Sales Executive job in 2001 to gain a commercial real estate license. These days he helps land developers find property, and was briefly involved with the Turkish Hockey program.


Growing up, I never could have imagined that I would one day get a chance to meet one of my hockey heroes. And why is he a hero?  First, he's a Minnesotan. He played with the Gophers, and helped bring home a National Championship. He also played for Team USA, bringing home a gold medal, and being a part of what many believe is the greatest sports story in the history of the United States. And despite being this legendary man in so many people’s minds, he's just a regular down to earth good guy who was more than willing to go out of his way to meet me in the middle of the day to talk.


GH:  I'm sure you've been asked this a thousand times, but… Your given name is William Conrad Schneider? Where does Buzz come from?


Buzz Schneider:  Well, I grew up on the Iron Range, and most of the people up there were Slovak, Croatian, Slovenian, Norwegian, Swedish and German. My Grandmother was from Croatia, and when I was a baby, they used to call me the Croatian word for "brother", which sounds like Buzz. By the time I was three or four, everyone was calling me Buzz. So that's what I thought my name was. So when someone calls be William or Bill, I don't know who they're talking to.



GH:  Your birthplace is listed as Grand Rapids, but you grew up in Coleraine before moving to Babbitt in 7th grade. As a young man with an obvious interest in being competitive in hockey, did you ever "regret" your parents decision to move to Babbitt, a hockey program in it's infancy, from hockey hotbeds like Grand Rapids and Coleraine?


Buzz Schneider:  Growing up in Coleraine, of course they had much better hockey than they did in Babbitt. I loved playing with my friends and all that in Babbitt, but I knew there were a lot better teams in Coleraine that were going to state. And I skated with a lot of those guys from the time we were Mites. Like I always tell everyone, we were always 400 points away from 500 in Babbitt. But one good thing about going to High School in Babbitt at that time was, I can't remember anyone ever getting cut. Not just for hockey, but for all sports. Ron Castellano would never cut anybody from the hockey team. If you wanted to play, he always made sure you had a place to play. I was a Forward my whole life, until my senior year in high school. Then Castellano's friends from Eveleth, Willard Ikola and John Mayasich thought that if he moved me to defense, it would help if I wanted to go to pro. But before he moved me, he went to my parents and said "Buzz wants to go on and play pro, and I want to make sure I can help him out. Is it OK if I move him to defense"? My parents said "Do what you want to do, you're the coach, it's your team". So I made the transition from Forward to Defense my senior year, so I could get more ice time. And boy did I ever! I don't know if I ever came off the ice. Even if I wanted to come off, Coach Castellano said "Buzz, you can't come off".



GH:  I understand that you were also a pretty good football player, and an even better baseball player growing up?


Buzz Schneider:  While I was still in High School, Gene Baker of the Pittsburgh Pirates came up to Babbitt to watch me play, and said "I know all you guys up here like that goofy little hockey puck a little bit better than baseball, but I'd like you to come play baseball in the Pittsburgh organization, if you don't go to college". I wasn't ruling out baseball, but I loved hockey. So when I got the chance to play for the University of Minnesota hockey team, I couldn't say no. But, because I was such a good baseball player, (Gopher Baseball Head Coach) Dick Seibert called me and said "I know they're giving you all the hockey stuff, but I just wanted to talk to you about playing baseball". I wanted to play hockey for sure, and I kind of wanted to play baseball. I played hockey my freshman year, and had a pretty good year. I also played on the junior varsity baseball team. One thing about baseball, I could never hit off a pitching machine. So George Thomas, the assistant coach, used to pitch to me during batting practice. He said "We're not going to goof you up now".



GH:  While you were in High School, how were you recruited, and who recruited you?


Buzz Schneider:  Actually, I was recruited by Murray Armstrong from DU (University of Denver) while at Babbitt High School. Back then, if you wanted to play pro hockey, you played for Murray Armstrong. He came up to the Iron Range to recruit Pete LoPresti and me. Pete, who was a goalie, was my wife's neighborhood friend while growing up in Eveleth. Pete ended up going to Denver, and I went to play for Herb Brooks at Minnesota. Herb never did see me play in High School, but people he knew and trusted had seen me play, and talked to him. So, he asked me to come to Minnesota.



GH:  What was it like growing up and playing hockey in Babbitt?


Buzz Schneider:  My Dad was an Industrial Engineer and my Mother was a teacher. She had graduated from the University of Minnesota back in the 40's. I graduated from Babbitt High School back in 1972. It was a small town. When I was growing up, there were about 3,800 people. One thing about living in a small town, everybody played just about every sport in High School. I played Football, Baseball and Hockey. There was nothing else to do in a small mining town like that, and I loved sports. Ron Castellano started the hockey program in Babbitt. He was from Eveleth, and played hockey at the University of North Dakota. He started a hockey team about four or five years before I got there, and I think only one kid came out. So he went out recruiting the kids in Babbitt. He was also able to get the mining company to build this beautiful rink. At the time, it was only the second rink in the state of Minnesota that had plexiglass, right behind the Met Center. It's still there today. Ron did a nice job.



GH:  You grew up on the Iron Range during a time when the northern teams dominated the Minnesota High School hockey scene, for the most part. When and why did that change?


Buzz Schneider:  The pendulum swung in about 1975, and the power came down to the cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul). They just don't have the numbers up north anymore. That's just the way it is. It was unbelievable up there in the 70's, though. I mean, they really had some good players up there. One year, you had Mark Pavelich, Dave Delich, John Harrington, my brother Steve, and guys of that caliber coming out. I think Eveleth had 14 of 21 kids come out that year and play Division I hockey.



GH:  You played hockey professionally after the 1976 Olympics, but were able to regain your amateur status in order to play for the Olympic team in 1980. What was involved in that happening?


Buzz Schneider:  Well, in 1975, I was drafted by both Pittsburgh (Penguins), and the (Minnesota Fighting) Saints. I had played in the '75 World Championships, and had a good tournament. I had a hat trick against Tretiak and the Russians, and had 9 goals in a small handful of games. Dick Button was a scout for the Penguins at the time, and he told me to get an agent and come out to Pittsburgh after the tournament. I had this agent by the name of Keith Hanzel. Keith and I were supposed to fly out to Pittsburgh, but just before we did that, the IRS went after the Penguins, and they ended up changing General Managers. The new General Manager wasn't as high on me as the old GM was, but they wouldn't trade me. They wanted me to try out, but I told them I wasn't going to. Instead, I ended up playing on the 1976 Olympic team. After the '76 games, the Penguins wanted me to come for a tryout, but I wouldn't go. So we negotiated all summer long, and I eventually ended up going to training camp with about twenty six other guys. Only two of those twenty six guys ended up without a contract, and I was one of them. So they sent me down to play for Eddie Johnson, the old goalie, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I played for Hershey, and led the team in pre-season scoring. So they were going to send me to Saginaw (Michigan), but I said 'no, I think you better send me home', because I was thinking about going back here for a couple years. I had a few stops along the way home, though. I went on a five game tryout with the the Toronto Maple Leafs farm club in Oklahoma City. So, when my tryout was done, they said 'geez, we wanna keep ya, but we gotta figure out what we're gonna do. We'll let you know'. In the meantime, I got a call from the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA. So I jumped on a flight from Oklahoma CIty to Birmingham, with a connection in Dallas. As I'm walking through the Dallas Airport, they were paging me. It was the Maple Leafs. They wanted me to sign with their Oklahoma CIty affiliate. I thought about it, and said, I came this far, I might as well keep going to Birmingham. So I got to Birmingham for a ten game tryout. That's where I got to know Frank Mahovlich real well. In Birmingham hockey wasn't real big, but it was fun. I had a good experience there. I hung around with Frank (Mahovlich), and tagged along with him to go watch John Wooden. We'd go out for coffee and stuff like that…it was great. They were going to send me to Charlotte, but then I ended up going to Virginia and playing for John Brophy and the Hampton Gulls of the Southern Hockey League. You remember Paul Newman's character in the movie Slap Shot? That was John Brophy. The SHL was a crazy league. When I saw that movie, it was just like the Southern Hockey League. It was unreal. I played there with Jamie Hislop, who works for the Minnesota Wild now. Jamie and I scored the goals, and everybody else fought. The league ended up folding, so I ended up going to Massachusetts to play for the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League. I'm not even sure whose farm club that was. But while I was in Springfield, John Mariucci contacted me and said 'Buzz, we're going back to Europe'. I was actually supposed to get married that spring, but I postponed my wedding for a month, and hopped on a plane to Europe. When I came back, I got married. After all that, I ended up finishing out that year with the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals were a part of the IHL (International Hockey League), which wasn't recognized by the National Hockey League as a professional league. So we kept our amateur status. Mike Eruzione was in the same boat as me. He played in the IHL and AHL after he left BU (Boston University), and before he played for the '80 team. And believe me, Herbie (Herb Brooks) checked all of that out before we went to play. I think I met just about everybody in hockey that year!



GH:  Herb Brooks was notorious as being a bit of a task master as a coach. But your relationship with Herb grew into more of a friendship as you moved away from a Player-Coach relationship. What are your fondest memories or quotes from Herb Brooks?


Buzz Schneider:  I never had a problem with Herb. I mean, he was tough, but he was one of those guys… if we were sitting here today, he'd say 'I'll see you here next year at the same time, and we're going to have a cup of coffee'. And no matter what happened that year, Herb would be here. And if you weren't here, he'd be sitting here waiting for you. He was a man of his word, I'll tell you that. God, I mean, they don't make those guys anymore, where deals are done on a handshake. You say what you mean, and you follow through. To me, that was the best part about him…honest guy. When I played for him at Minnesota, he was tough. But I remember after I left, we used to go have a couple of beers together. It was great. We understood each other. But when I came back and played on the '80 Olympic team, he changed his tune with me. The wall came down, I knew where I stood, and I definitely knew where he stood. I remember when I was at the U, and Herbie was all for us breaking away from the NCAA. He said, you've got people who don't know much about hockey, making decisions for hockey people. He'd rather keep it in the hockey family. Herbie liked to rock the boat a little bit.



GH:  Did you feel like you had a good chance to make the team when you went to try out for Herb in Colorado Springs?


Buzz Schneider:  I know that after coaching at the U of M, Herb basically knew what team he wanted. He asked me if I wanted to play. He said 'Buzz, just come to training camp. If you don't lay an egg, you'll be one of the twenty six guys'. He said 'I can't commit to anybody being on the twenty, but I'll tell you like I'm telling the other guys, I want you to be one of the twenty six'. So, I know he told Kenny Morrow that, and Jack O'Callahan too. You just had to go out and play well. That's all you had to do, which was great.



GH:  Were there any guys on the team that you felt like you bonded with more than the others?


Buzz Schneider:  Of course I played with a good bunch of guys. I was good friends with John Harrington, and, well, especially Marky Pavelich. Pav is the best Center i've ever played with. He told me 'Buzz, don't worry about it. Just get in front of the net and I'll put the puck on your stick'. I go, 'OK'. And he did! Pav and I were roommates the whole year. I knew him growing up. My wife is from Eveleth, and her father was a good friend of Mark's dad, Tom Pavelich. So we ended up rooming together on the Olympic team. I'm not sure if Herbie wanted me to take care of Pav, or if Pav was supposed to be taking care of me. He's a real good guy. As a player, he wasn't flashy or anything. He just went out and played the game. He loved hockey. You know, I played with a lot of different Centers throughout my playing career. I played with Mike Polich at the U, and he ended up playing for the North Stars. He was real good. He was a straight up and down the ice kind of Center. But I really liked playing with Mark (Pavelich). He was the kind of guy that could go down the ice, and it was like he was painting a picture. A complete hockey player. And a real good guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back just to give you something. We ended up getting into some real estate stuff together, because he knew I was in the business. As a matter of fact, here is a funny story about Pav and I. He and his wife used to drive around the country looking for land. So he calls me and says 'Buzz, you gotta come down to Arizona. We can 'buy this land for X amount, and turn around in six months and spin it'. So I flew down to Arizona and gave him a call. I said 'Pav, where you at'? He said 'I'm in Florida'. I said 'Oh, OK, thanks for letting me know' (laughing). So I'm out there driving around looking for him and this land he's telling me about, and he's down in Florida. But that's Pav. He's great.



GH:  Speaking of Pavelich, I've heard rumors from some other "Rangers", that he used to skate on a frozen river with no laces in his skates, to make himself a stronger skater?


Buzz Schneider:  That very well could be. I know they had an outside rink on Ely Lake in Eveleth, and Pav used to go out there and skate by himself for hours.



GH:  In the movie Miracle, Herb Brooks drove his team hard after a tie against Norway. When that happened, rumor has it you didn't take part in the infamous post game skate? If so, how come?


Buzz Schneider:  Nope… Thank god! What happened was, we were playing Norway, and Les Auge, who was an All-American at Minnesota, and one of the guys on the 26-man roster, was in the process of getting thrown out of the game. So Herb said "Buzz, go find out what the heck is going on out there". So I skate over, and here's Les in front of the Official with his hockey glove covering his eyes, and his stick turned upside down. I don't know what started it all, but Les was telling the Referee he was a blind man in a language he could understand, because he was Norwegian. So I approached the Official and said "Mr. Referee, can I….", and that's all I got out. He points at Les and says "You're outta here!". Then he points at me, and says "You're outta here too!". I got thrown out of the game! So I showered up and put my street clothes on. When the game ended, Herbie called everybody back out onto the ice. I stood with Craig Patrick on the bench, and thought it was going to be five or ten minutes of hard skating. About twenty minutes into it, I felt guilty, because he was skating the heck out of the guys. I said to Craig, "Should I get my skates on and go out there?". He told me "No, go out to the bus". I came back a half an hour later, and they were still out there. So I never had to skate that. What you saw in the movie was basically true. They turned the lights out, and everything. But what they didn't show in the movie is that we had to play Norway the next day, and we ended up beating them 8-2. And another interesting thing happened. Mark Johnson was probably our best player. Herb and Bob Johnson (the coach at the University of Wisconsin and Mark's Dad) didn't get along. So Herb had his back turned while the guys were finishing up another "Herbie", and when Mark Johnson finished, he took his stick and rapped it against the glass in anger. Herb spun around, trying to find out who had done it, but he never found out. Considering his relationship with Mark's Dad, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened, if he would have known it was Mark. Oooh, I felt bad for those guys. Herb actually did me a favor by sending me over to find out what was going on. I think that might have been the best thing he ever said to me, "go find out what's going on over there".



GH:  In the 1981 movie Miracle on Ice, and the 2004 movie Miracle, some have questioned why certain actors were chosen. For instance, Karl Malden as Herb Brooks in Miracle on Ice, and Bill Mondy as Lou Nanne in Miracle. That being said, were you satisfied with the performance of the young man who portrayed you in the movie Miracle?


Buzz Schneider:  (Laughing) I better be! I have to spend every Christmas with him! I'll never forget laughing at an interview when they asked Billy what it was like playing me in the movie. He said "Well, playing my Dad was not too much of a stretch, he's a pretty simple guy. But when they put the wedding ring on me, and I'm supposed to be married to my Mom, that's when it got kind of weird".



GH:  What was it like having a major movie made about you and your teammates?


Buzz Schneider:  That was neat. And it was really neat that Billy was in the movie. We got to spend a lot of time together because of it. What Disney did, is they took about five of the actors, and five of the players from the '80 team, and had us travel around promoting the movie. So, I got to go with Billy to Los Angeles and New York to drop the puck at games. It was a lot of fun. What really stood out to me though regarding the actors who played us, is we got to spend some time with them out in Vancouver, where they filmed the movie, and in L.A.  Being around them, you realized that these guys really bonded, just like our team bonded in 1980. I know Billy is still good friends with a lot of those guys. They're all still close friends. To experience what we did in 1980, and then relive that experience with your son 25 years later… how can you not love that. I think Miracle gave our generation legs to run on.



GH:  Successful athletes these days are making a lot of money on contracts, and endorsements. Did your success at the '80 Winter Olympics translate into any of that?


Buzz Schneider:  Yes, but my opportunity was in Europe. After the '80 games, Lou Nanne actually wanted to sign John Harrington, Mark Pavelich and me to a contract with the North Stars. John accepted, but Pav and I declined the offer. I ended up going to Europe, because I was 25 at the time, and in those days, I was probably considered too old to play in the NHL. So I went to Bern, Switzerland. I had a guaranteed two year contract, and made pretty good money. I could have signed in Berlin or Cologne, Germany, but I ended up settling in Bern. As a matter of fact, the guy that coached me in Switzerland was Klaus Kleiter, the Head Coach of the West German hockey team, which beat us at the Winter Olympics in '76. He still wanted me to come play for him, though, so I did. Over there, every game was televised. Hockey was bigger in northern Europe at that time, than it was here. Although it seemed like there was never anything on TV except for downhill skiing, and an old black and white movie in english on Sunday night. That was the highlight of our week. We'd make popcorn, and watch these old movies from the forties and fifties. That was the only thing that was on in english.



GH:  Do you ever get back to Switzerland?


Buzz Schneider:  I do get back there every so often. My son Billy was actually born in Bern in December 1980. So when he graduated high school in 1999, I told him that, as part of his graduation present, we were going to go back to Switzerland, so he could see where he was born. My Brother owned a company in London, so we spent a week with my brother, and then a week in Switzerland. Billy got to see where he was born, the apartment his Mom and I lived in, and he even met some of the people who used to babysit him. Then I ended up going back to Bern again in 2000, when I was with the Turkish National team for the World Championships. I spent the week with my friends, when I wasn't attending meetings and stuff like that. I've got a lot of real close friends there. In fact I just talked to one of my best buddies today, who played on two Olympic hockey teams for Switzerland. Our families are very close.



GH:  You spent some time in Turkey. How did you end up there?


Buzz Schneider:  I got involved with hockey in Turkey in 2008. I was there for two months. The Turkish hockey program is government subsidized by their government. The U.S. Embassy and the U.S. State Department are involved in bringing athletes and former athletes over there to keep up our relationship with Turkey. So, every year they'd have American basketball players, wrestlers and people like that come over for a week at a time. They also wanted someone to go over and give the people a taste of hockey, form relationships, and give the Turkish and Muslim kids a good impression of Americans. Dave Christian was supposed to go, but he couldn't make it. John Jasik from the U.S. State Department said "Buzz, come over, you'll have a great time". But before I'd say yes, I had a couple of questions for him. First, is it safe? Second, do they have ice? So what I did there for two months is basically taught a hockey school for the Turkish kids ages six to eighteen, as part of their development program. There were about two thousand kids in Turkey that played hockey, out of a population of about seventy five million. I worked closely with the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. They gave me a cell phone, and they said "Anytime you get in trouble, you call this number and we'll come and look for you". I had nothing to worry about. I was over there for two months, and formed a lot of good relationships with these kids. In fact, a few of them still e-mail me. But I had to come back to Minnesota for work. I had been in real estate since 2001, and started my brokerage venture in 2005. What I do is search for land for developers. But not too long after I returned home, I was contacted by the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation again. They asked if I would be interested in coming back to help them get up and running, and be their General Coordinator on a six month contract. I said "Yeah, I'd be interested in helping out, but I'm not interested in coaching". So we come to an agreement, and I'm back in Turkey. Next thing I know, I'm Head Coach of the Under 18 Team up in Erzurum! Erzurum is a town northeast of Ankara, about a hundred miles away from the Iraq and Syrian border. Might sound a little sketchy to some, but it was very safe. So I worked up there for a while with the U18 Team in training camps, and was General Manager of the Turkish Men's National Team. As far as Turkish hockey goes, to put it in perspective, I think there's about forty five countries in the world that belong to the International Ice Hockey Federation. Turkey was able to move up from forty fourth in the world, to thirty eighth. We played down in New Zealand, and moved from Group Three up to Group Two. Of course, Group One is all the big teams like the U.S., Sweden and Canada. Well, the Turkish people asked me, "What's going to happen when we get up in group one"? I said "well, it's going to be a looong process". I would say that, by way of comparison, the Turkish Under 18 National Team, would probably get beat pretty handily by a good high school team here in Minnesota. And a good Division III team could probably beat the Turkish Men's National Team. So they've got a long way to go. But they've got a hell of a lot of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, a lot of politics too. They've got forty five people on the board, so getting things processed was a lot of work. They had the President, and then they had me off to the side. And I'd have to meet with the other forty five representatives. I was supposed to go to Switzerland to help out with the International Ice Hockey Federation there, coordinating to develop hockey around the world. They still needed help in Turkey though, so I ended up calling my old friend Vladislav Tretiak, the Russian goalie. He agreed to help, and had a couple of people he wanted to bring down with him. So I worked with the Turkish Federation to get Tretiak and his crew down there, but I left right before they got to Turkey. So, now I'm working in Switzerland, but it wasn't too long before the Turkish Hockey people were calling me again. It was so funny, they had built this beautiful rink up in Erzurum, and they called me one day and said "Something's wrong, the ice here is really soft". I said "Geez, I wonder if something happened to the refrigeration system? I'll make a call for you". So I talked to the IIHF, and they sent a guy from Switzerland down to Erzurum to see what the problem was. Well, you know how they put about three quarters of an inch of water down for rinks in the United States? Well, they had put a foot and a half of water down at the rink in Erzurum. So it never froze, and ruined all of the boards. They had to take all of the boards and plexiglass out, and buy all new stuff. That slowed them down for a good month and a half. But it was a beautiful ice rink, once they got the ice situation figured out. In the end, it all worked out. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot about the Muslim culture. My wife came over and she loved it. The food was great, and the people were very nice. I thought the program was on the right path when I left. It was fun.



GH:  You were drafted by both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota Fighting Saints, but you never played a game with either team. Do you think there are more opportunities for American players in the NHL now, compared to when you played?


Buzz Schneider:  Oh yeah. I think there's a lot more opportunities now for Americans to play in the NHL. There were a lot of American players prior to World War II., but after the war, things changed. There weren't too many Americans playing in the NHL. John Mariucci, Frank Brimsek, and a few other guys from the Iron Range were playing, but our numbers in the NHL had dropped. I'm not exactly sure what the cause of that was, but I think our success in 1980 may have opened up the doors a little bit. And not just for Americans, but Europeans as well. I mean, Russians could have played in the NHL a long time ago, had they had the opportunity. So I think things have changed, and changed for the better.



GH:  Do you have an opinion regarding the suggestion that college athletes get payed?


Buzz Schneider:  You know…… maybe……… boy, I don't know. It's hard. Colleges make a lot of money off of sports, and that's a big reason they have sports in college, I guess. That's a tough call. I mean, you get an education subsidized, but… I don't know.



GH:  You left college early to pursue your hockey career. Things have changed a lot in the hockey world since the '70's, but what do you think of underclassmen leaving school early to pursue careers in professional hockey?


Buzz Schneider:  You know, my first job outside of hockey was working for the Palmer hockey family in Detroit. Palmer and I sat down one day, and were talking about the kids in Detroit. And he says to me "Buzz, we tell these kids to go to school and do your homework. Then we pay them three dollars an hour to work at McDonalds, when they grow up knowing they can make $3000 a week selling drugs. What are they going to do"? I don't approve of drugs, of course, but when these kids have these two options, which one do you think they're going to take? So you can relate that kind of choice to college hockey, and college sports in general. If a kid has a chance to go pro, I don't think there's anything wrong with leaving school early, especially with the kind of money they're offering nowadays. There are not many jobs that you can make that kind of money, going to school for four years. On the other hand, for those guys who don't get the opportunity to play pro, that's when it's hard. Most of those guys will basically have to start all over again.



GH:  What do you think about the Olympics using professional hockey players now, instead of amateurs?


Buzz Schneider:  Well, it's funny how things have changed. When I was a kid growing up, you had to play in the Olympics to make it to the NHL. Now, you have to make it in the NHL, to play in the Olympics. I think it should be amateurs, I really do. But it's all about money, and that's why things changed. We'll see what happens. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if it went back to all amateurs again. But then again, there really aren't true amateurs anymore, because players are all getting paid in some form. The Russians were pretty much professionals back then anyway. I mean, the Canadians fielded a team of professionals who had a heck of a time in the Summit Series against the Russian National team. And that was pretty much the same team we ended up playing In the Olympics. Back then, the Russian players were treated like royalty, and got benefits that the average Russian citizen didn't get. I remember when they won the World Championships in 1975, back in the locker room they got car tires, batteries, clothes,…all sorts of stuff. That's how they were rewarded for winning.



GH:  Do you still stay in touch with the guys on the '80 Olympic Team?


Buzz Schneider:  Yeah, we still stay in touch. But you know, it's funny, I almost hate sending an e-mail to any of them. Because as soon as you do, you've got nineteen guys jumping all over ya! The team hasn't changed a bit. We're older, but the jokes are still the same. Great bunch of down to earth guys. We still do autograph signings together. I think there were fifteen of us down in Chicago a few months ago. There's all sorts of events that come up, so we've seen each other pretty regularly over the last 30 years.



GH:  How about the Russians? Did you ever run into any of those guys after the '80 Olympics?


Buzz Schneider:  Yup. I remember playing at the World Masters Games, and we ended up playing a Russian team consisting of players from the '72, '76 & '80 Olympic teams. In fact, some of the guys on our team kept sending them over rounds of vodka the night before the game, hoping it would help us beat them. But they ended up beating us in the game. God I had such a good time going out with those guys and exchanging stories. They were just regular, decent guys, and a lot of fun. Those are the kind of things I miss about hockey, seeing guys like that. Boy, they were good hockey players.



GH:  Knowing what you have achieved on the ice, the following questions may come across as moronic, but…. Any regrets regarding your hockey career?


Buzz Schneider:  No, not really. I tried to play in the Olympics again in 1984, and that's when my back went out. I had been playing with a herniated disk. I went to see Dr. Richard Steadman out in Colorado Springs. He looked at my back, and said "Buzz, what the heck are you doing here?". I said "I didn't want to quit, and nobody told me to go home yet". He said, "Buzz, I think it's time to go home". My back wouldn't have lasted through the year, I know that. When it's over, it's over. I've met a lot of wonderful people, and had so many great teammates. I've still got a lot of very good friends that I've met through hockey to this day. From youth hockey, my college days, international career, through my professional career in Europe. All of my contacts are from hockey. It's a good bond. For me, things worked out well.



GH:  How do you stay busy now?


Buzz Schneider:  I do some real estate stuff, and I still dabble in hockey and stay involved. In fact, the people in Turkey want me to come back, but I don't know if I want to go back there. I had the opportunity to coach a long time ago, but geez, it was hard because I traveled and played so much, and I had two young sons at home. And the money for coaching wasn't the same back then, as it is now. We go up to our cabin and fish a little bit, golf and travel. My wife Gayle and I spend a lot of time together. We've been married for 36 years, and we were friends long before that… she's my best buddy.

Talk about college hockey and the Golden Gopher Hockey Team on the Gopher Hockey message board.

Tag(s): Other Gopher Sports  Where Are They Now?