By Carly Grimaudo
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Every April, a single team's graduating class will have its Division I NCAA men's hockey careers end on a high note by hoisting up the championship trophy. While the remaining 58 senior classes have its seasons cut short in emotional abrupt endings, a talented few have something new to look forward to. Following the conclusion of a collegiate hockey career, begins a frenzy of professional signings and debuts for the select players that get the opportunity to take their talents to the next level. Two of these players who continued on in their careers to reach professional level are Holy Cross graduating senior assistant captains Adam Schmidt (Warrington, Pa.) and Shayne Stockton (Rochester, N.Y.), who both debuted last weekend for the Worcester Sharks of the AHL and the SPHL's Columbus Cottonmouths respectively.
Wearing #26 for the AHL affiliate of the NHL's San Jose Sharks, Schmidt made his professional debut in Worcester's 4-2 victory over the Hershey Bears at home on Saturday, March 22 followed by a roadie on Sunday, March 23 against the Providence Bruins where the Sharks fell 2-1 in a close contest. "It was a surreal experience," said Schmidt. "I was nervous day one of practice, but once I realized I was just playing hockey it was so much fun and something I will never forget."
Having an immediate jump from the collegiate level to the professional one that falls right below the NHL is a huge step for any aspiring player, and also a big change. "The guys were all very nice when I met them and helped my transition," he said. "The level of practice was definitely a step up and a bit hard to adjust to at first, but as the first day went on, I began to feel more and more comfortable and still have been becoming more comfortable as days have passed."
Luckily for Schmidt, his transition was also facilitated by the fact that his debut took place right down the hill from Holy Cross. "My favorite part was that my first game was in Worcester and I was able to have friends and family make a cheering section for me," Schmidt said. "I heard everyone the whole game and they really added to my first game experience."
Thus far as a Shark, Schmidt has appeared in three consecutive games, where Worcester went 2-1. In addition to his debut weekend, he played in the Sharks' 5-3 defeat of the Portland Pirates on Wednesday, March 26 in Lewiston, Maine, and also recorded his first point as a professional after assisting the Sharks' second goal of the tilt.
Wearing #72 for the Columbus Cottonmouths, Stockton also made his professional debut where he played in Columbus' 3-2 shootout win over the Mississippi Surge on Friday, March 21 and their 3-2 drop to the Huntsville Havoc the following evening on Saturday, March 22. "It was definitely something that I will never forget," Stockton said. "Coming out under the tunnel onto the ice was unbelievable and was overall just a really awesome experience."
Stockton's transition was not only a hockey one but a geographical one as well, as the Cottonmouths play in Columbus, Ga. "Coming in I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect, but since I got here the guys have been great, making it an easy transition and making a comfortable living space," he noted. "In regards to hockey, I was a little jittery at the first practice, but learning the new systems hasn't been too difficult since the veterans here have been extremely helpful and encouraging."
While Stockton's debut took place in unfamiliar territory, there was a familiar face that he knew very well. Former teammate and 2013 graduate Evan Zych plays for the Mississippi Surge, who Stockton's team defeated in a shootout on his debut. "It was awesome playing in my first game against Zychy," he said. "We talked the day before and joked around a bit, but on the ice we were competitive," he added. "It was really good to see him even though he scored against us, but all in all it was great to see him and it was funny how it worked out that my first professional game was against him."
A victory in his opening game also added to the experience as well. "My favorite part about my debut is that our team won the game, as winning makes everything better," Stockton said. "That first game I'll remember for the rest of my life."
With the Cottonmouths underway with playoffs, Stockton hopes to help the team advance, though they dropped the first of a best two-of-three series on Wednesday, March 26 to the Peoria Rivermen, by a score of 2-0. "For now, my plan is to help the team go as far in playoffs as possible," he said. "We have a really good team and hopefully we can keep playing for as long as we can."
What lies ahead for this debuting duo in the realm of professional hockey is unknown, but for now they'll live in the moment and keep contributing to their teams' successes during their Amateur Tryouts (ATO's) in competition this upcoming weekend.