BOSTON -- Chris Drury grew up less than a mile from a rink in Trumbull, Conn., where the rink manager gave the budding rink rat a key so that he could skate whenever he wanted.
Mathieu Schneider spent countless hours skating with friends at the Mount Saint Charles rink in Woonsocket, R.I., stopping only long enough to inhale some fast food before returning to the ice.
Each of them parlayed their passion for the game and the availability of abundant ice into long NHL careers that culminated in their induction Thursday night into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Long retired as players and now working in other facets of the game, both Drury and Schneider have children of their own and watch as they develop their own way in the game. As both men can attest, it's not as easy a journey for their kids as it was for them.
"When I was a kid at Mount Saint Charles we'd skate for six or seven hours a day," said Schneider, who played 21 NHL seasons with 10 different teams. "Kids today can't do that because things are too structured and too regimented."
Compounding the problem, the ponds where Drury and his two older brothers spent countless hours are pretty much a thing of the past. And that's why both men are staunch supporters of USA Hockey's American Development Model because it helps recreate the unfettered fun of the past within the boundaries of modern realities.
"I think the pond hockey mentality created [by the ADM] especially at a young age is fantastic. It's absolutely great for the game," said Drury, who coaches his son's Mite and Squirt teams and has been an ADM advocate.
"The more you can touch the puck and the more you can be creative with the puck in small areas is all you can ask for. The American Development Model and Mite cross-ice hockey couldn't be better. It's perfect."
Drury is the epitome of another key ADM principle that encourages kids to play multiple sports and resist focusing on one sport at an early age. Long before he won an NCAA national championship and a Hobey Baker Award at Boston University, or he captured a Calder Trophy and hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche or even helped Team USA win two Olympic silver medals, Drury pitched his Trumbull team to the Little League World Series title.
Playing multiple sports not only helped him develop the athleticism needed to excel at the highest levels of hockey, it also instilled a passion for the game by giving him a necessary mental and physical break from the rink.
"It was huge. I never played hockey in the summer. It just wasn't an option. Then when it got cold again I'd grab my skates and my stick, and once it got warm again I'd grab my bat and my glove," he said.
"I think it's important to be a well-rounded athlete for so many reasons that are physically and medically documented."
In his new role as the director of player development for the N.Y. Rangers, Drury said that passion is what drives other NHL players to continue to improve every day."
"You go into an NHL locker room and guys have those little wooden stick handling balls and constantly trying to get better and usually doing it with a smile on their face," he said. "It comes from the right place. You fall in love with the game and you want to keep getting better no matter what level you're at or how old you are."
Schneider is the first to admit that he didn't know how much youth sports, not just hockey, had changed over his years in the NHL. Sure, he heard teammates with kids talk but it wasn't until he hung up his skates in 2010 and started coaching his son, Mathieu Jr's team that he began to take notice.
"I was shocked at everything that was going on. I just got into this crazy world and said, 'what has happened here?'" he said. "It's not just hockey, it's every sport. Every father thinks his son is going to be the next Tiger Woods or his daughter is going to be like the Williams sisters and if they put six days a week and five hours a day into their sport that they're going to develop the next great athlete. It's just not the case and I think it's really hurt sport in America."
Schneider said the same thing is happening north of the border where he now lives in Toronto. But given the NHL's continued support in partnering with USA Hockey to grow and improve the game, good things are happening, with much more on the horizon.
"I think we're really starting to take notice and follow the lead of the American Development Model at the NHL level," said Schneider, who serves as a special assistant to Donald Fehr at the NHL Players' Association.
"I think it's going to be a true game changer by getting more kids involved to play the game, allowing more kids having fun, giving them more access to the game, keeping costs down, and really creating programs that kids and parents are going to love.
Schneider said there are some NHL teams such as Anaheim and Dallas who are doing a great deal to improve the youth hockey experience in their areas, but there is more that the league and Players' Association can do to change the culture across the country and in Canada.
"The NHL carries a powerful tool, and it's the shield and all the clubs. And the Players' Association has a powerful tool and it's the players. Who better than the 700 best players in the world to carry that message forward?" he said.
"It's important as gatekeepers of the game, from the NHL on down to USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, that we create programs for kids. We need to be leaders in the sport. We don't need to be followers. We have an opportunity to be leaders in developing programs that are age appropriate for these kids and not force them to skate up and down a 200-foot rink and bring pure fun and development back to the game."
To that end Schneider is happy to serve on the NHL's age appropriate player development sub-committee with members of USA Hockey's youth hockey department. The goal is to use the power of the NHL shield and the cache of the best players in the world to build on the foundation laid by USA Hockey to rein in what he sees as the insanity running rampant in youth sports.
"There's an awful lot that we can do, and I think it's important that we do it," Schneider said. "The groundwork has been laid by USA Hockey. Now Hockey Canada is following suit. In the end it's in everyone's interest to head down this path. We need to make sure everyone is onboard."