While the Florida Panthers continue to build off the momentum of their franchise-record 11-game winning streak, a member of the team’s minor-league affiliate has quietly been enjoying a personal resurgence of his own.
After spending the past four seasons toiling in Europe, forward Rob Schremp has seemingly rediscovered his game as a member of the Portland Pirates, scoring 13 goals and 27 points in 32 games this season to earn a spot on the Eastern Conference roster at the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic.
“It’s pretty cool,” Schremp told FloridaPanthers.com via telephone on Friday. “It’s obviously an honor to be named as an All-Star in the league and it gives me a little more motivation towards my dream of playing back in the NHL. It makes me feel like I still have a shot at it and that I still have some good hockey left to play. I was very proud to be named to that team.”
The 2016 AHL All-Star Classic will include the AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, Jan. 31, followed by the AHL All-Star Game on Monday, Feb. 1, taking place at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena in downtown Syracuse, N.Y.
As a native of nearby Fulton, N.Y., Schremp sees his appearance in the game as not only an important stepping stone in his road back to the NHL, but also as a way to reward all those who helped him navigate the darkest days of his up-and-down career through unwavering support.
“I’ve had so much support from my friends and family in my hometown,” said Schremp, who will undoubtedly have a large cheering section in the stands at War Memorial Arena. “It’s humbling and such a cool thing to be a part of going back, especially in your hometown, to an All-Star Game. I mean, playing in a regular-season game was cool, but to play in an All-Star Game there is pretty special.”
With Schremp leading the way offensively, the Pirates were able to battle through some early adversity and currently sit in sixth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with an 18-13-1 record.
“He can be a game changer because of his skill and because of his offensive ability,” said Pirates head coach Scott Allen. “He’s blended in with our team just fine. We have a strong leadership group with our team and he’s one of the guys on that leadership group. He’s a guy that we rely on to be a voice for the rest of the team.”
A former first-round pick, 25th overall, of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2004 NHL Draft, Schremp suited up for three different NHL teams before making the decision to depart for Europe after notching just four points in 18 games for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11.
From there, he would spend four seasons chasing ice time all over Europe, moving from Sweden to the KHL to Austria to Switzerland and then back to Sweden before returning to North America and signing a one-year AHL contract with the Pirates this past summer.
“We knew who he was and the talent that he had, but also kind of recognized a changed in his work ethic,” Pirates general manager Eric Joyce said of Schremp. “He came to me and said that he wanted to play in North America again and that he wanted to be successful.”
“It’s a credit to him and his hard work and the hard work of his teammates more than anything to have him represent us at the All-Star Game. I couldn’t be happier for him or the guys that he plays with.”
The transition back to North American hockey wasn’t initially an easy one for Schremp, however, as the 29-year-old admits he feared that a few of the foreign tendencies he picked up on the ice while overseas could potentially follow him back across the Atlantic.
“It was nerve wracking in the beginning to come back from overseas,” said Schremp, who recorded 26 points in 42 games for Skelleftea AIK in Sweden last season. “It’s a totally different game and I’d been away for a while. To be honest with you, last year wasn’t a huge success for me as a player. I didn’t get a chance to play all that much. I was a little bit down on myself the last little bit, but to have a chance to come back here and produce and be part of a team and help them win, it’s been so much in one year.
“I mean, what a swing. A year ago I was sitting as healthy scratch in Sweden. This year I’m playing in the AHL and making the All-Star team and helping our team win on a nightly basis. It’s been such a whirlwind.”
So far, Schremp’s exceptional play hasn’t been enough to graduate him from an AHL contract to an NHL one with the Panthers, but it has re-established him as a player who can be a difference-maker at the minor-league level while also putting him back on the radar of teams around the league.
In many ways, however, Schremp can already be considered a contributor to Florida’s success, both now and in the future, as he continues to turn all of the trials and tribulations of his career into important lessons for the organization’s talented young players in Portland.
“It’s a responsibly that you take on,” said Schremp. “The team looks for you to help the young guys. When I was a young guy, I always looked up to the older guys. I always want to be a good older guy for the boys. These guys are starting their careers, some of them first year pros, and you want to show them the right way.”
“I try to lead on the ice as much as a I can, that’s all I can do.”
Mike Lewis contributed to this article.