For a season and a half, Rob Schremp called the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum his home rink.
But heading into tonight's game against the Islanders as a member of the Thrashers, Schremp is thankful for new opportunity and the chance to be on Long Island as a visitor.
"I'm happy to be here and part of this group," said the 24-year-old center, who was claimed off waivers by the Thrashers from the Islanders on Feb. 28. "It's a good group of guys. [Defenseman Freddy Meyer] was my roommate last year in Long Island. It's good to have a [familiar] face like that when you come to a new team.
"The hockey world is a small world, so I know a few of the guys from the past," he continued. "I played against [Anthony Stewart] in the OHL, I played with [Andrew Ladd] in a top prospects game when we were kids. I played with [Chris Thorburn] at Wilkes-Barre when I was a rookie in the minors. It's an exciting team. This group here is a lot of fun."
Finding the game fun is a change for the Fulton, N.Y., native, who grew up playing hockey and lacrosse — his lacrosse-style goal in a Minor League All-Star competition is a YouTube hit — while admiring the likes of Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly. Schremp watched Connolly, who grew up 10 miles away, and credited the Sabres' center as inspiration for his career path through the Ontario Hockey League.
His play was dynamic with the OHL's London Knights. Schremp was 2003 OHL Rookie of the Year, was voted to the All-Rookie Team and, in three seasons, scored 126 goals and accounted for 304 points, including a 57-goal, 145-point season in 2005-06. That led to his being drafted in the first round, 25th overall, of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
But the dream ride stalled once he hit western Canada. Three years and seven games-played later, he was released by the Oilers, and claimed by the Islanders.
His opportunities were better in Uniondale, but not plentiful, as he got in to 44 games in 2009-10 and 45 more in 2010-11 before he was again waived, this time getting picked up by the Thrashers. Schremp believes the third team is the charmed one as far as getting a chance to show what he can do.
"It was a struggle for three years in Edmonton. It didn't pan out," he said. "I think maybe I lost a little bit of experience in that situation as far as playing games. A lot of guys that were my age and drafted in my year played a lot of games, a lot more games than I did going into their third year of pro."
Schremp entered Thursday night having played in 105 NHL games in parts of five NHL seasons. Compare that to other players drafted that year, like current teammates Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, who were selected fourth and fifth overall by Carolina and Phoenix. Ladd has played in 392 games, while Wheeler has seen action in 234 in only three years (he chose to attend the University of Minnesota for three years).
He is not bitter. He's simply eager to make the most of a new opportunity with the Thrashers.
"After I got a chance to play [with the Islanders] I put up some points and got some confidence," said the 5-11, 200-pound center, who scored 10 goals and 12 assists in 45 games with the Islanders, including a three-point game (1G, 2A) against the Thrashers on Dec. 11. "Hopefully I can bring that here, bring some offensive jump for the boys."
He contributed big-time by scoring the winning goal in Atlanta's shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on March 17.
Schremp is impressed by the fight of his new club, especially their display of grit five days earlier, in the dramatic 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center over the Flyers, when the team overcame a 3-0 deficit, scoring four third-period goals then winning in OT.
"It was pretty neat to be a part of that game," he said. "Even with five minutes left, the feeling on the bench was still like, 'We have a chance.' It was refreshing to see that positive energy on the bench. There's the kind of atmosphere around here that we're never out of the game."
Schremp would like to start a new chapter on his hockey career, which thus far has been dominated by a media-created perception of cockiness, which doomed his time in Edmonton and may have hindered him in Long Island. He speaks in reverent tones of both cities and their rather antiquated arenas.
"[The Nassau Coliseum]'s just older compared to other buildings," he said. "I like it from the sense that there is so much history there. It was the same thing in Edmonton. Think of the guys that played there. That was an older building. There's just so much history in the building. It's pretty cool to play in."
He hopes to help make an impact so that some day a youngster might refer to Philips Arena in similar tone.
"I've only been here for a short period but it seems like the crowds have been getting better and better and the energy is in the building," he said. "I know we/re buzzing on the ice and the crowd's buzzing and that helps a lot. A silent building is hard to play in. You need that little bit of extra push from the fans and they give it to us here. It's going to be a packed house when the Thrashers are in the playoffs and it would be fun to play in."