Head up, heart strong.
Name: Rob Schremp
Hometown: Fulton, NY
Professional Sports: Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers, Europe.
My name is Rob Schremp. First things first, to understand this story, you need to understand me. I tell it like it is. If I feel a certain way about something, I am not afraid to express myself. Right or wrong, that is who I am. I am a competitor. I want to win. This story may feel familiar for some, and for others, not at all. But, this is how my strive-to-win-personality has shaped my relationship with hockey.
I started my professional career in Wilkes-Barre Scranton as a 20 yrs. old kid. Yes, 20 yrs. old and 100% kid. I thought like a kid; all that mattered was going ‘bar down’ and making ‘amazing back door sauce passes’. And up to this point in my career, this mindset held true. I was coming off a 145-point season and a 50-point playoff performance in my final year of junior hockey. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in for a rude awakening in the pro game.
In professional hockey, the players who are able to score the highlight goals and make phenomenal passes are in excess. As someone who had been conditioned to believe that he was one of the ‘go-to-guys’, discovering there are so many ‘go-to-guys’ was a difficult pill to swallow.
My first wakeup call came during my draft year in London, Ontario. My team was making a semi-finals push in the OHL playoffs and I hardly saw the ice. My ice-time for those games went as follows:
Game 2: 30 seconds.
Game 3: 40 seconds.
Game 4: 60 seconds.
Game 5: 45 seconds.
Get the picture? Now, listen, I’m a guy that wants to win. Don’t get me wrong, I love to make plays and I love to score goals, but above all else, I want to win. But to be a young kid, and realize that the team was better off with me on the bench? That hurt. Thus begins a series of “slaps in the face” by the sport I love.
The next slap came during my rookie season in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I was a healthy scratch for the first time in my pro career. I was not happy. “You’re not dressing tonight” played over and over in my head. How the f*ck am I that bad at this game that I can’t be one of 12 forwards in the lineup? I’ve been benched before for making plays in risky areas, but to not even get dressed for your team’s game was extremely new to me. Slap #2. That one stung.
Fast-forward a year to NHL training camp. I was playing well. I was creating plays, being productive on the power play; something that has been stapled to my name. “Schremp can’t play 5 on 5, but he excels on the PP,” people used to say. It didn’t help. I ended up being one of the last two cut. “I’m pretty sure, no, I am positive, you cannot help this team,” stated the coach. “Just, uh, go down there and have a good year.” That was it. Slap #3.
Next, I decided to try my luck in the league that is considered the second best league: the KHL. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t ready for the whirlwind that I was about to get myself into. The team I was on allowed very little room for imports on their roster. So, you can imagine the amount of English that was spoken in the room was little to none. I specifically remember sitting in our locker room and getting the feeling that our own teammates were f’cking chirping us. Later on, we validated that feeling. In his native tongue, our team captain said, “Hey, don’t sit with those f*cking imports” to one of his fellow natives. To which our teammate responded, in English, “These guys are part of the team. I will sit with them if I want.”
It goes without saying…we absolutely sucked that year. Slap #4
During that same year in the KHL, I came down with some kind of bug during one of the national team breaks. It could have been a common bug, but it could have just as likely been due to the rare chicken I had eaten for a pre-game lunch. I had to take practice off to rest and recover. During that rest and recovery, the doorbell rang. There was an ambulance outside. I answered and they said, “You come!” I responded with a quick, “No. You come” as I thought they were there to give me an IV and take a stool sample. We did the ‘you come’, ‘no you come’, thing for about a minute straight until I realized I wasn’t going to win this one and ended up getting in the ambulance. At the time, I was thinking this was some insane procedure for the stomach flu. Then it hit me. As these guys were trying to take a blood test, I remembered the horror stories I had once heard, and now understood what was happening: the team was performing horribly and they couldn’t afford my salary. They were hoping that instead of having the flu, I had been boozing over break. If they could get that to show up in a blood test, they could get out of my contract for free. Slap #5
A few years later in my career, I found myself in Northern Sweden. This was the first time in my professional career that I was going to be part of a winning team. I was excited. However, it didn’t exactly go as planned. I soon was put through a version of boot camp for three weeks. I didn’t take road trips with the team. I stayed behind and performed two-a-days so that I would be in the best shape possible come playoff time. I was skeptical. I decided to take this one on the chin. F*ck it. Let’s get ready to tear these playoffs up and bring home a championship, the rest will take care of itself. I played three of 16 playoff games and the team eventually fell short of our goal. Slap #6
After a year of playing back in the AHL and attempting to make the jump back into the NHL, I realized that the bouncer of the NHL doors was not going to let me back into the party. I ended up spending last season in the Swiss NLA. In that league, the leading scorer wears a yellow helmet with flames on the side of it and a ‘top scorer’ jersey. Talk about a target on your back. I ended up our top scorer, however, there were some game nights I didn’t wear the helmet/jersey combo. I wore a suit; I was a healthy scratch. “I like Rob and think he’s a really good player, but I am a very defensive coach and he doesn’t fit my system. He may play two of the last 10 games of the season,” stated the coach to my agent. Slap # 7? I’ve lost count.
Throughout all that I have endured in my career, and through every summer spent training, I somehow find a way to clear the slate. Who knows, maybe all those slaps I’ve experienced needed to happen for me to become the player and person I am today. Despite the setbacks, my excitement and passion rejuvenates. My age may have changed, but that kid inside me lives on. I will always be at the rink shooting pucks, having fun, and driving towards being better than the rest. No matter what, that competitor inside me craves a championship.