By Jeff Mannix | AHL On The Beat Archive
In the summer of 2011, Rob Schremp’s hockey career was at a crossroads. Months after feeling like he’d gotten into a good situation when he was claimed on waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers, the club was sold and moved to Winnipeg. After the sale, the entire hockey operations staff with the Thrashers was let go.
Schremp was coming off a year in which he combined to score 13 goals, 13 assists and 26 points in 63 games with the Thrashers and the New York Islanders. That was NHL career highs in every category for the then 25-year-old, a first round NHL draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers seven years earlier.
Considered by many as a can’t-miss prospect after helping lead the OHL’s London Knights to the 2005 Memorial Cup title, and scorer of 145 points during the 2005-06 OHL season, Schremp was offered a two-way deal by Winnipeg, despite coming off the best NHL season of his career.
“At that time, I thought I was playing good hockey and that I deserved a one-way,” Schremp said. “Things didn’t work out, so I had to find a place to play.”
Schremp decided that it was time to take his career in a different direction. He accepted a contract offer to join MODO, one of the storied clubs in Sweden.
“One of the knocks on my game was my skating,” Schremp said. “Everyone who comes over to North America from Sweden is a great skater. And it definitely did help me pick up my tempo playing on the bigger ice sheets in Europe.”
“Other guys have gone to Europe, gotten better, and been able to come back and have success,” Schremp said.
He expected his time in Europe wouldn’t be that long before he got another shot at playing back home. But, one year turned into two. Two years into three, and then three years turned into four. He went from Sweden to Latvia, then Austria, then Switzerland, and back to Sweden again.
Last summer, Schremp felt like he was at a crossroads again. With offers coming from Europe again, he decided he needed to be patient and wait for opportunities to open up in North America.
To help, he called on his good friend and junior teammate, Dave Bolland, the 2013 Stanley Cup hero from the Chicago Blackhawks, who now plays for the Florida Panthers.
“I told David in the summer that I wanted to go skate with him in Florida,” Schremp said. “I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could still skate with guys at an NHL pace.”
It went well. Very well. Schremp was keeping up with many of the Panthers players and felt his game was at a level where he could indeed skate in North America again.
“I knew it was summer hockey, but I knew it was still good paced scrimmages,” Schremp said. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Portland Pirates GM Eric Joyce both witnessed the sessions, and they thought he could play, too.
All the same, Schremp says they told him they didn’t have a spot for him. Then, what Schremp called a very good offer came in from a team in Switzerland. He turned it down.
“I just had a feeling,” Schremp said. “I said to myself that I needed to stick it out a couple of more days.”
He was rewarded. A few days later, Tallon and Joyce reconsidered and offered Schremp a chance to attend their new AHL affiliate’s training camp in the fall. So, Schremp came to Portland in September, hoping to earn a roster spot with the Pirates. He did, signing a contract for the full season.
“It’s all worked out,” Schremp said. “It’s been a great fit here. I’ve had a rapport with Scotty (Allen) since I was with the Islanders.” Allen, promoted to the Pirates’ Head Coaching position on January 1 after the promotion of Tom Rowe to the Panthers as Associate General Manager, was an Assistant Coach with the Islanders while Schremp was there from 2009-11. “The staff has been great. They’ve helped me get back to playing the way I can play.”
And Schremp has returned to the form where he showed so much promise as a youngster. Playing in all 50 games with the Pirates so far this season, he leads the team in goals (17) and points (34). He’s just one point shy of reaching the 400-mark for his professional career. Schremp also earned an opportunity to participate in this year’s AHL All-Star Challenge back home in Syracuse, New York, last month. A native of nearby Fulton, he got to play an All-Star game on a rink where he played games as a kid.
“I remember growing up playing at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena,” Schremp said. “It was always such a huge deal for us kids because it’s where the Crunch played. To go back there and be able to play in a professional all-star game was really special for me.”
Schremp’s ultimate goal is to return to the NHL, but it’s not at the forefront of his mind anymore.
“I remember when I was in the AHL as a 21- and 22-year-old, I was always wondering when I was going up to the NHL,” Schremp said. “It’s such a negative thought because there are so many variables that are out of your control. It takes away from the everyday concentration and work to get better as a player.
“I honestly don’t think about it,” Schremp says of his chances to return to the NHL. “Obviously, if it happens again, I’ll be the happiest person alive. But, I’m an AHL player right now, and I’m focused on that. I’m focused on coming to practice every day, going on the ice 15 minutes early and working on my game. I’m focused on working on my game during practice and getting better. It’s always day-to-day for me now, and that’s a positive thing for me.”