SUN Hockey Pool

Friends on the bubble

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

CALGARY -- Funny how things work out.

Robbie Schremp of the London Knights and Marc-Antoine Pouliot of the Rimouski Oceanic were rivals last spring, determined to get the better of each other at the Memorial Cup. Schremp sipped champagne. Pouliot came out second best and got a ham sandwich.

Last night against the Calgary Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Schremp and Pouliot weren't only teammates but linemates, two kids after one roster spot with the Edmonton Oilers.

The big prize now is an NHL paycheque to start the season, and you'd think the competition over who comes out the better would be just as intense as last spring. In many ways, it is, but there's a twist.

Schremp, he of the vast offensive skills and confidence to match, and Pouliot, who has game but is a young man of few words, are pulling for each other. In the weeks since rookie camp opened, they've become friends and fans of each other's bid to make it to the NHL.

May the best man win.

"We've become pretty good friends," said Schremp. "Obviously, we're both battling for a job, but it's not directly personal. If I make it here, it's not going to be like, 'Screw you, I got the job.'

"It sucks to battle one of your buddies, but it's part of the business. We both know our situation."

Schremp, 19, drafted 25th by the Oilers in 2004, and Pouliot, plucked from Rimouski 22nd in 2003, are battling with Yan Stastny, Jani Rita, Brad Winchester and J.F. Jacques for one roster spot.

DIAMETRIC OPPOSITE

Pouliot, 20, from Quebec City, is the diametric opposite of Schremp, who is from New York, in terms of personality and how he plays. But he knows a hockey player when he sees one.

"For sure, he's got more attention," Pouliot said of Schremp. "He's scored goals. He's played well. That's good for him. I just try to focus on my game and take care of my side of things."

Schremp's ticket to the NHL will be punched by the offensive pop he adds to the power play on the half-boards. Schremp has what every team can never have too much of - skill.

Pouliot, who played with Sidney Crosby and captained the Oceanic, is a lot more subtle, on the ice and in front of a notepad, but he's silky smooth and more well-rounded.

Schremp, who must return to junior if he doesn't make the cut, played left wing last night. Pouliot, who'll go to Hamilton of the AHL if he doesn't stick, played centre. Kyle Brodziak played right wing on a night coach Craig MacTavish dressed his bubble boys - Schremp, Pouliot, Stastny and Winchester up front, Matt Greene on defence.

GREAT CHALLENGE

"I want to make this team and I know it's a great challenge," said Pouliot, who can play wing or centre. "I think I've been good, for sure. With all the good players here, I'm playing less than I was used to in junior, but I think I've been doing fine."

Schremp might force GM Kevin Lowe to make a trade if he shows enough to stick beyond 10 games - past that, it counts as a year of his contract. That's assuming Winchester, who is on a one-way contract, makes the team.

"Whoever gets the job gets the job," shrugs Schremp. "I'm not even saying it comes down to the both of us. He can put the puck in the net and so can I. It'll come down to whoever gets it done."

From rivals to friends and linemates. What Schremp and Pouliot won't be this season is teammates. There isn't enough room for both of them.

Down the road? Yes. Not this season.

"One or the other has to win," smiles Pouliot, who was talking about the Memorial Cup, but could have been talking about who gets a jersey with the Oilers. "He's a good player. I'm not going to lie.

"He's a good friend and a good guy. We'll play our games and let somebody make the decisions."


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