When you look up sharpshooter in the dictionary, Sheldon Rempal’s name isn’t very hard to find.
The Calgary, Alberta product brought Nanaimo Clippers fans to their feet during his three years on Vancouver Island, lighting the lamp 106 times in three seasons.
After finishing his final year of midget hockey with the Calgary Buffaloes, Rempal elected to head west instead of staying in his home province – a decision that proved to be the right one.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of remember playing midget hockey and I had some opportunities to stay home and play in (the Alberta Junior Hockey League). Once you max out your midget years, you are allowed to move provinces and that was kind of always on my mind to go to BC and play there.”
“When I got (to Nanaimo), I wanted to put my best foot forward and do well every day, but I couldn’t have asked for a better rookie season. I was able to obtain a scholarship and then go through the process with Devin (Brosseau).”
“It was a pretty unique relationship where we developed a brotherhood through our five years together so it’s something that is very special to me. All around, it was an unbelievable experience.”
The Clippers endured a quick rebuild in 2013-14 after hosting the Western Canada Cup at the Frank Crane Arena the previous season.
Rempal was one of the offensive catalysts in 2013-14, notching 22 goals and 28 assists on a Nanaimo team that hovered around the .500 mark and fell in the Island Division semifinals.
However, that season saw the creation of one of the best dynamic duos in recent BCHL memory as Rempal was paired up with Brosseau – a budding relationship that evolved both on and off the ice (they lived in the same billet house) and eventually Clarkson University.
“He’s probably one of the best passers I have ever played with. I think he knew what kind of game I (had), he knew where I wanted the puck and I knew where he wanted it. It was awesome chemistry that we had,” added Rempal.
“When you spend every day, seven days a week together, you obviously have some sort of brotherhood. He helped me along the way and I can’t say enough good things about him. The stuff we did off the ice definitely helped us on the ice and it was awesome.”
A steady improvement
Under head coach Mike Vandekamp, the Clippers returned with a vengeance in 2014-15, cementing a 37-16-0-5 record.
Nanaimo added to its arsenal of weapons with the addition of Cole Maier, Jake Jackson, and Yanni Kaldis along with Guillaume Decelles between the pipes.
“It wasn’t just our line, it was the whole team (who) contributed. We were all within a couple of points (of) each other for the team scoring race and obviously, we had a ton of success.”
“I also remember playing in the World Junior A Challenge for Team Canada West that year and it was really special for me to play for Canada. We didn’t have the success that we wanted at the tournament but it was nice to play in Saskatchewan – close enough for my family to come down and watch those games,” said Rempal.
For his efforts, Rempel potted 29 goals in his sophomore season for the Island Division champions who embarked on a memorable playoff run.
The Clippers gutted out a pair of thrilling seven game series victories against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Powell River Kings. After placing second in a three-team mini series, Nanaimo found itself against the star-studded Penticton Vees.
Rempal and the Clippers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead before Penticton took the Fred Page Cup Final over and reeled off four consecutive wins.
“We had them on the ropes heading back to Nanaimo and it kind of got away from us. It’s a tough way to end a very strong season but I still think it was an awesome year.”
The last hurrah
With a trip to the Fred Page Cup final and an NCAA commitment under each of their belts, Rempal and Brosseau considered leaving for Clarkson in their 20-year-old season but elected to stay in Nanaimo and essentially ripped up the BCHL offensively.
“For me, I think we both could have gone and played (in the NCAA) but I know for me that I had to do a couple of things school-wise to be more ready for when I got to Clarkson.”
The prolific duo connected for a combined 194 points.
Brosseau earned his keep as the set-up man for Rempal, who notched 59 goals in his final season of junior hockey.
“It all started in the gym during the summer. I took a really big step and I was hungry to get back. I was pissed off that we lost to Penticton in the final and I think we wanted to come back and compete for another league championship,” added Rempal.
“Brosseau brought the physicality and I think he was the best playmaker in that league during that time.”
Not to be outdone, the third member of that line – Matt Hoover – had a remarkable season as well, posting 38 goals and 43 assists.
“With Hoover, he was a smaller guy (who) played with a lot of bite and was kind of the overall player. He was the centreman who (took) draws and I think he helped provide the perfect balance on what you need to have success,” mentioned Rempal.
It seemed the Clippers were primed for another trip to the Fred Page Cup final after securing a second straight Island Division crown with a 38-18-1-1 record.
After breezing through Alberni Valley and Powell River in a total of nine games, Rempal and company found themselves on the wrong side of the mini-series, placing third out of three teams.
Soaring with the Golden Knights
With his junior A career in the rearview mirror, Rempal quickly made his mark at the NCAA level with Clarkson in 2016-17, tallying 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 39 games.
“My freshman year was probably one of the more fun years of my life. It was just a very cool experience being a kid from Canada going down to the States on a scholarship. I don’t think I had the success numbers-wise that I wanted to have, even though technically I had a good year. I think I ended up being an all-rookie team (member).”
“But, there was more on the table for me to put out and I remember thinking back that summer that my second year was the one where I was going to have the chance to sign pro offers. (I thought) we were going to put this to bed and I (would) make the NHL after my sophomore season.”
Unfortunately, the Golden Knights fell short of expectations, icing a record of 10-9-3 in the ECAC and falling to the Cornell Big Red in three games during the quarterfinal series.
The following year, Rempal and the Golden Knights came back stronger, going 12-5-5 in the conference and enjoying a lengthy playoff run.
Clarkson upended Colgate in the quarterfinal series 2-1 and came out on the right side of a hard-fought semifinal matchup against Harvard. However, the Golden Knights lost out in the championship to Princeton.
“Our class did a lot of good things for that program. Now they are just rolling and a bit of a powerhouse program the last few years. It’s been awesome to see,” added Rempal.
Despite falling short, Clarkson attended the NCAA National Tournament where it came up short in the regional semis against Providence.
After the season, Rempal elected to forego his final two seasons of eligibility and sign a professional contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
“It was always my dream to play in the NHL and I think it would have been hard for me to turn that down. With my age, I didn’t go into college as a true freshman, I was a 22-year-old sophomore. I wanted to go into pro hockey before I turned 25, (so that) was another factor. I think halfway through that season, I knew I was signing that contract.”
Getting the call
In his first pro season, Rempal enjoyed modest success with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario, California, where he posted 40 points in 59 games.
“It brought me back to my first year in Nanaimo where I was able to get off to a pretty good start and got noticed quite a bit.”
“Once you realize this is your job now, you have to realize that you’ve got to bring it and not take any days off. You have to grind it out because you are earning your paycheque. That is one thing I learned.”
To his credit, the Calgary native earned a late-season look-see from LA, suiting up in seven games despite failing to register a point.
“It was a dream come true playing that first game. My first game was at Staples Centre against the New York Islanders and I just couldn’t believe it – it took a while to believe it, but it was very special. My mom, dad, and brother were able to fly in for the game and it was a night I will never forget.”
“Once you get a taste of it, you want to live that everyday. I have that taste and I am trying to work everyday to get there and stay there,” mentioned Rempal.
2019-20 turned out to be a difficult year for Rempal. COVID-19 pandemic aside, the 25-year-old’s production dipped with Ontario, registering just four goals and 17 assists for 21 points in 56 games.
“I had a lot of success as a rookie and maybe I assumed I would do that again. But that is where the phrase ‘you need to be a pro’ comes in. Maybe I thought I was working hard, but I don’t think I was working hard enough. You need to really dig in and I made sure this past summer that wouldn’t happen again. I wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
Rock you like a Hurricane
Once the dust settled, Rempal became an unrestricted free agent last summer and signed a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“LA didn’t qualify me but thankfully Carolina came in with a good offer and I was more than happy to take it. It’s been good so far.”
With the AHL not suiting up until February, Rempal earned an early-season callup with the Canes, going pointless in three games.
He added mentors such as Hurricanes bench boss Rod Brind’amour did a lot early on to make him feel comfortable in the organization.
“With COVID and not playing a game in about a year, I remember the morning skate where he came over and calmed me down and told me to play hockey. That settled my nerves for the rest of the day before we played Tampa Bay and I was able to play well.”
Rempal is only signed with Carolina through the 2020-21 season, so he is in audition mode every time he steps on the ice. In addition to those games with the Hurricanes, he has spent the majority of the season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.