It was only one play but it spoke volumes about how far Rob Schremp has come.
His London Knights were playing the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL Western Conference final. The Knights were leading 2-0 when Rangers super-player Mike Richards beat two Knights players and was ready to shoot at the net.
He never got the chance. Schremp raced back and took the puck off Richards' stick. It was a defensive play that Schremp would not have made a year ago.
"We know he's got a great shot and he can score," Knights coach Dale Hunter said. "Now he's learned how to play good defensive hockey, good two-way hockey. He takes the body. Now he does the intangibles that make him a better player."
All that guarantees Schremp will see a lot of ice time in the OHL final.
That wasn't the case last year at this time. Schremp was riding the pines in the last two games of the Western Conference final and the Knights wound up watching the OHL final on television.
In these playoffs, Schremp has defined himself as someone who can play in the clutch and be a leader. He's third in OHL playoff scoring and ninth in CHL scoring.
Schremp is a fan favourite not only because of his skill but also because of the joy with which he plays the game. The Fulton, N.Y., native is the ultimate rink rat.
"Hockey's been my life since I was four years old," Schremp said. "I didn't start to take it seriously until I was 12-years old, but it's been a passion for me. It's more fun being drafted in the NHL. It's one step closer to a dream.
"(Hockey's) just everything, man. It's so much fun hanging out with 20 guys. If I could, I would be at the rink all day. When I was in Mississauga on game day, I'd get to the rink at 12, go on the ice, shoot some pucks. I love the rink. There's no better place to be.
"But Mark told me, 'Get a more professional routine and not just hang around the rink.' "
That would be Knights general manager Mark Hunter, who taught Schremp how to make better use of his time.
"I'd come in, hang out. I wouldn't think about the game," said Schremp. "I'd put my stuff on and play and never really focus on the game. Now that I've been here, like Mark says, I have to have a professional way of preparing. I do way more preparing and thinking about the game."
When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Schremp late in the first round, they didn't draft him for his defensive play but because he's a gifted offensive player who already has a pro shot. One can watch him for two years and he will still find some way to surprise you.
But that isn't enough. His poor defensive play and free-form style of hockey earned him an almost permanent spot on the bench.
It was a horrible feeling for a young player who more than anything wanted to play the game. How he would react to that benching would go a long way toward determining his success or failure.
"He has a great attitude," Dale Hunter said. "He wants to learn. He asks questions. As much as what happened last year when I sat him down, instead of pouting, he worked on his defensive game, his all-round game and look at him now. Edmonton must be very happy with him."
It's what he needed to do if he was going to move to the next level.
"The learning curve has been unbelievable," Schremp said. "I came here not really knowing anything. I loved the game and I played just on talent. Now I know what I have to do to play at the next level. Since I came here, Mark and Dale taught me how to play not only with skill but within a system."
And he's still having a good time whether on the ice or with his family when they come watch him play. You usually know when his family is here because Uncle Mike brings his motorhome and the Schremps can be found having a barbecue in the parking lot of the John Labatt Centre or White Oaks Mall.
"The best thing is going out and performing," Schremp said. "I like the situation here. I play with Drew Larman and Dan Fritsche, two other Americans, and it's fun. To be able to have a few laughs, go out and play in front of 9,200 people cheering what you do, it's an unbelievable feeling."
Schremp has shown little of the baggage he was supposed to have when he came from the Mississauga IceDogs.
"People who don't even know you say things about you. There's nothing you can do about that," Schremp said.
"I want people to remember me as a competitor on the ice but also a good guy off the ice. I want to be known as a good person. I know it sounds cheesy, but I think I'm that kind of guy."
No arguments here.