by Carly Grimaudo || AHL On The Beat Archive
Debuting as a professional hockey player is an opportunity that only a select few acquire following the close of their collegiate careers. Ambitious hopefuls will fly across the country, and even the world, to strange unfamiliar places to step on the ice and swap out their amateur identity for a professional one.
After finalizing contracts, the next steps usually require packing bags, telling college professors they’ll be taking an indeterminable hiatus and receiving best wishes from college teammates and coaches.
Luckily for former Holy Cross standout Adam Schmidt, the only packing he had to do was brown-bagging a lunch before hopping in his car for a 2.3-mile trip down to the DCU Center, where he made the switch from Holy Cross Crusader to Worcester Shark.
Like many aspiring hockey players, the 23-year-old Warrington, Pa., native has always dreamed of playing hockey at the professional level.
“Going through juniors and coming into Holy Cross, I knew I wanted to play professionally; it was always a goal of mine growing up,” said Schmidt. “I wanted to make it work and find a way to try and play after college, especially to sign after the year. It’s been ideal signing in Worcester and being able to play here.”
Prior to signing an amateur tryout with the Sharks on Mar. 20, Schmidt completed four years on the Holy Cross hockey team where he played in an all-time record setting 151 games and totaled 112 career points (52 goals, 60 assists), ranking him ninth in the all-time Division I records at the school. Schmidt is also the 11th player in the school’s Division I history to reach 100 points and belongs to an elite group of just 10 Division I Holy Cross players to have earned 20 points or more in each of their four seasons.
While Schmidt’s priorities as a senior assistant captain remained fully on taking the Crusaders as far as possible during playoffs, once they were knocked out by Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey conference’s quarterfinals, he was able to shift gears and start thinking about professional hockey and the Sharks.
“I was completely focused on Holy Cross hockey during the year,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t pursue going pro until after the season.”
Though Schmidt only had one conversation with Worcester head coach Roy Sommer between the time his collegiate career ended and when he signed as a Shark, he did get to know another Sommer beforehand. With the Sharks coach’s son Castan a sophomore on Holy Cross, Schmidt played two full years with him as a teammate and admitted that playing with Castan aided his transition into playing for his father.
“It makes it a lot easier,” he said. “It’s a lot easier during practice just knowing him, and even after just being able to talk to him without having to be nervous with a new coach.”
For Schmidt, familiarity in his professional debut didn’t end with his new coach. Playing a sport he loves in a city where he’s lived for almost four years has been monumental in shaping his overall experience, especially on his opening night.
“When I played my first game, being able to have everybody there supporting and to have a crowd was a lot of fun,” said Schmidt. “It was wild. I remember I hopped on for my first shift, the puck was dumped in and I just heard everyone yelling so I skated as fast as I could to the corner. Everyone was going nuts, it was so much fun.”
Wearing number 26 in his two-game weekend debut for Worcester, Schmidt combined for six shots, with three in each game, and stirred up some offensive motions for the Sharks.
“He played pretty well the first game, but looked a bit nervous,” Sommer noted. “He made some more plays the second game after he got more comfortable out there.”
His first-game jitters were prevalent, but they were significantly curbed by knowing his family, Holy Cross teammates and close friends were in the stands cheering and raising signs plastered with “#26 is my hero.”
“I was still pretty nervous the first couple of shifts, but just having people there supporting me and knowing that all my friends and family were there made it a lot more fun,” he noted. “The support made it easier for me to settle down and realize that I’m playing hockey, which is something I’ve been doing my whole life.”
Not only did staying in Worcester enhance Schmidt’s on-ice debut, it defined his off-ice experiences as new professional as well.
“It’s nice just to wake up in my own bed every day and put on clothes from my own closet,” he said. “Keeping the same routine going and just knowing the area too makes it so much more comfortable. Driving to and from practice in my own car, being able to cook meals in my own kitchen after practices and coming back to school to hang out with everybody and still see my friends helps a lot.”
Following a professional debut, players are typically congratulated and asked about their experience as a whole upon their return, but for Schmidt it’s an everyday occurrence. Whenever he steps on campus for class or grabs a quick meal from Holy Cross’ dining facilities, good friends and acquaintances alike, constantly want to know about his time as a Shark.
“It’s a daily thing now that whenever I walk around people say, ‘Good to see you,’ ‘I heard about the game,’ or ‘Good job,’” said Schmidt. “It’s really special to have the support that I do with everybody complimenting me and wishing me good luck.”
Another unique facet of Schmidt remaining in Worcester is that fact that he can maintain his identity as a student-athlete, but he’s now flipped the label to athlete-student instead.
“Though I’m playing and focusing on hockey, I still have to make sure I do all of my schoolwork,” he said. “We finish practice pretty early so I usually have a lot of my day to do work. At Holy Cross, my lifestyle was designed to focus on school first and then hockey, both in a sense of schedule and priority, but now that’s switched since hockey comes first in my day and focus as a Shark.”
While he wears a new jersey with a new number, dresses in a locker room with new teammates and plays at an entirely new level, much else has remained the same for Schmidt in his transition from amateur to professional. Seeing familiar faces in the stands at games, waking up in his own bed every morning, going to dinner with his parents after every home game and continuing as a student at Holy Cross has added to his professional experience and facilitated it.
“I don’t think my debut would have been nearly as special if I wasn’t at the DCU Center, at home on a Saturday night with all of my friends and family there,” he said. “Obviously playing as a professional is really special either way, but having my family, all of my friends, my team and my Holy Cross coach here along the way; I mean it’s just an awesome overall experience.”
When Schmidt previously skated the local DCU Center ice for fun one afternoon with Castan Sommer in their Holy Cross-issued gear, he never imagined he’d have the opportunity to step on it for a second time wearing a Worcester Sharks sweater as a member of the American Hockey League. Though Schmidt’s identities switched from Crusader to Shark and from college player to professional, his surroundings and support in the city of Worcester remain the same.