DALLAS -- Just when they thought a joyride that began last year at this time couldn't become more exhilarating, Robbie Schremp and Danny Syvret got goosebumps all over again as the Edmonton Oilers' bus rolled closer to the skyline of Big D in the sweltering Texas heat yesterday.
Only months removed from a record-setting season with the London Knights, one in which Schremp and Syvret hoisted the Memorial Cup and marvelled at the excitement of it all, here they are in Texas, where everything seems bigger - including their dreams of playing in the NHL.
Forever bound by the journey they took last spring, Schremp and Syvret are pinching themselves all over again as they continue their bids to win jobs with the Oilers, auditions that continue tonight against the Dallas Stars.
Hang on, brother.
"We're trying not to get caught up in it too much," smiles Schremp, who admits he and Syvret are astounded at how circumstances have unfolded. "We realize we have a great opportunity here."
Schremp, 19, drafted 25th overall by the Oilers in June 2004, has been the talk of training camp with the finesse and skill he's shown working the half-boards on the power play. So far, the Fulton, New York, native has lived up to his press clippings and has the inside track for the 14th roster spot reserved for a forward.
ARRIVED WITH LESS FANFARE
Syvret, 20, a five-foot-11 defenceman who captained London to a 59-7-2 record and was drafted 51st overall by the Oilers last summer, arrived with less fanfare, but after an impressive debut against Calgary Friday, he's definitely in the blue-line sweepstakes.
"It's always good to see one of your friends doing well," Syvret said of Schremp. "Having Robbie right here, it's good to see a former teammate and, hopefully, a future teammate."
With six more pre-season games to play and 46 hopefuls still competing for 23 jobs, neither Schremp nor Syvret is guaranteed anything. It goes without saying playing for pay in the NHL is going to be a tough gig to get, but having each other has helped take some of the edge off.
"Having a good friend here makes things that much more comfortable," said Syvret. "We go out to eat all the time together and it comes up every once in awhile that we both have a shot of making the team."
Coach Craig MacTavish has let it be known Schremp will get every chance to make the jump to The Show as a teenager, but it's Syvret's leadership, poise and puck-moving ability that's caught his eye.
HEAD ON HIS SHOULDERS
"His reputation for leadership at the junior level is incredible," MacTavish said. "You can see the maturity. Now, it's just time to evaluate his skills as a hockey player.
"He's got a head on his shoulders, which is going to be more important than it's ever been. You have to be able to think the game. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't play in the NHL soon.
"You can see the polish and skill level of Robbie. They know what they're doing. When you win at the junior level, you understand the game. You gain a lot of experience."
While Syvret, who tallied 23-46-69 with the Knights and was named to the Memorial Cup all-star team, has snuck up on some people, Schremp's not surprised he's in the mix.
"I'm really pulling for him," Schremp said. "I hope he gets a chance to make the team. He's so smooth and so smart. That's something I saw all of last season."
Syvret, who signed a three-year contract in August, will turn pro this season, be it in the AHL or with the Oilers.
Schremp will be returned to London if he doesn't stick because he's 19.
If it's all the same, the fuzzy-cheeked Knights would just as soon play together this season.
"Yes, it definitely crosses our minds, but I don't want to look that far ahead," Syvret said.
"We haven't done anything yet," offers Schremp.
"It's been great just being in the room with these guys. We're just trying to keep our focus, but sure, it's been pretty cool."