At 18-years-old, Schemitsch and his family packed their bags and booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. for the 2015 NHL Draft. He sat with his family at BB&T Center, eagerly waiting for his name to be called on Saturday, June 27. Finally, in the third round (88th overall), Thomas Schemitsch heard his name and he pulled the Florida Panthers sweater over his head.
“It was a dream come true,” he said with a smile. “I couldn’t believe it when I got called.”
When you’re a kid in Canada, it’s common to pick up a hockey stick and play the nation’s most beloved sport. At age three, Schemitsch laced up his skates, picked up a stick and started playing.
The Thornhill, Ontario native took mental notes as a child from his older brother Geoffrey, who went on to be selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round (96th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. Growing up, Schemitsch modeled his moves on the ice after his favorite player Nicklas Lidstrom. Schemitsch played competitively as a youngster participating in tournaments while balancing his schoolwork. He does not forget the sacrifice his parents made driving him to early morning hockey practices growing up.
“My dad is hardworking and so is my mom,” he said. “ They drove me to the rink every morning when I needed to be there. They have been there for me and I thank them for everything that they’ve done.”
Halfway through his minor midget league, Schemitsch transitioned from playing forward to defense when a defenseman left the team. He turned to his older brother, who played defense, for advice.
“He was a defensive player and helped me whenever I needed help with that transition,” he said. “He’s always there for me.”
In 2013, Schemitsch began playing for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), which his brother played for. In his first season, he recorded six goals and 11 assists (6-11—17). Schemitsch formed a tight bond with his new teammates and looked up to the older Owen Sound players that year, particularly forward Kurtis Gabriel.
“[Gabriel] was a walk on into the OHL and he didn’t get to play much in his first year,” he explains. “He got drafted in the third round to Minnesota in 2013. He takes care of himself and he works hard and that’s something I looked at and it helped me in my second year.”
During his second season with Owen Sound, Schemitsch recorded 14 goals and 35 assists in 68 games. With his hard work paying off on the ice, the six-foot-three, 205-pound defenseman owed much of his development to coaches Greg Ireland and Drew Bannister and Owen Sound General Manager Dale DeGray.
“The coaches are great to us guys and they give us the opportunity to play,” he said. “I can’t be thankful enough to Dale and the coaches there who have helped me develop over the past few years.”
Schemitsch's first activity after being selected by the Panthers was 2015 Development Camp. He enjoyed having the quick turnaround from the Draft to Development Camp and meeting his fellow prospects and the experience. The defenseman had no complaints walking into the Florida Panthers IceDen in shorts and a T-shirt with the sun hitting his face; a contrast from Canada’s harsh winters.
“It’s definitely different coming to the rink in shorts and a T-shirt,” he laughs. “Going to the rink in Toronto, it was always sweats and three extra layers.”
Schemitsch is expected to return to Owen Sound for the 2015-2016 season, but looks forward to the possibility of donning a Panthers sweater soon.Schemitsch on Draft Day: