DALLAS - Each morning, Rob Schremp takes the ice before the rest of the Islanders and puts on a little show.
With the rink to himself, Schremp turns the frozen surface into a stage and puts his elite hands and skills on display. Whether he's bouncing the puck on his blade while twirling around, balancing it while throwing his stick over his shoulder and back again, inventing new stickhandling moves to use in the shootout or snapping a puck into the net from the opposite goal line, Schremp, 23, unabashedly loves to show off.
If there are any stray onlookers in the stands, he'll quickly turn them into fans of his by playfully mugging or lofting a puck over the boards for a kid watching from behind the glass. But even if there is nobody around, it doesn't matter. "He's a kid that just loves to play and is always trying something new," coach Scott Gordon said. "It doesn't happen by accident."
That's why it was no surprise when Schremp delivered the true sparkler of a 3-2 win over Colorado Wednesday night. Schremp broke a 1-1 tie by snatching a puck out of midair with his hand, gripping his stick Louisville Slugger-style and batting it in for a power-play goal that dropped jaws and left fans dazzled.
"All those people call me a hot dog," he joked, "but if I didn't spend all that time working on my hand-eye [coordination], I would have never scored that goal."
All that extra time and hard work has paid recent dividends for him. He has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last three games and has established himself as a go-to guy in the shootout, where he is 3-for-5, including last week's game-winner against Columbus.
Schremp had trouble getting on the ice earlier this season; he was a healthy scratch for 22 of the first 30 games. But instead of sulking, he stayed upbeat, endearing himself to his teammates with his effort and contagious, almost childlike enthusiasm for the game - not to mention his skills. "You have this image of NHL goalies like they're the best in the world and impossible to beat. Once you put a few goals past them, your confidence builds," Schremp said. "I feel like I can beat goalies. I know I can beat goalies. I've done it before in the AHL and juniors. I've just got to keep doing it."
"If you're not around watching every day, you may not see the ability he has with his hands," Gordon said. "Now, hopefully, he'll continue the success he's having recently. He can be a key guy for us."
Notes & quotes: Gordon confirmed that rehabbing goaltender Rick DiPietro will make his season debut on this trip, which means he will play his first NHL game in more than a year either Friday night in Dallas or tomorrow night in Phoenix.