KITCHENER – Some of the memories are a bit hazy.
There was a routine of singles to a mix of music that included the Imperial March and the fanfare from the Star Wars movie.
There were costumes, intricate footwork, and ax attempts.
And, later, a switch to ice dancing with partner Chloe Sills and trips to the provincial championships.
But in the end, Kitchener Rangers defenseman Roman Schmidt chose hockey.
“I can’t remember everything,” the 18-year-old said of the early days. “I get flashbacks of it sometimes and I can imagine being in the arena.”
Long before the massive six-foot-five, 210-pound blueliner smashed enemies into the dashboards, he was a graceful figure skater.
âI think he got his first pair of figure skates when he was a year old,â Schmidt’s dad Derek said. âHe only wore figure skates until he was seven. My wife was adamant that he should become a figure skater. She felt like hockey was rude and these guys were spitting on the floor and it was disgusting. Figure skating was much more sophisticated.
There was a reason for the enthusiasm behind figure skating.
Schmidt’s mother, Elizaveta Stekolnikova (Liza), is an Olympic ice dancer from Kazakhstan, who has also competed in seven world championships. His father was a singles skater who joined Elvis Stojko and finished in the top 10 several times in the Canadian men’s finals.
The couple met while training in Ottawa, where Roman grew up and made his figure skating debut. He started in singles but quickly passed him.
âBy the time he was seven, I was telling my wife he was going to be too fat for figure skating singles,â Schmidt’s dad said. âI compared him to other seven year olds I was teaching and figured it wouldn’t work. We guided him to ice dancing where there isn’t that many jumps and spins and it’s not that acrobatic.
This lasted until he was about 10 years old. At that point, Schmidt was good at hockey and had to decide which sport to play. For him, the choice was easy.
âI was more built like a hockey player and that made more sense,â he said. âBoth sports took so long that I had to pick one. My parents had no problem with me choosing hockey and they were so supportive and still are. “
So favorable that the clan moved to Toronto so that Schmidt could play with the Mississauga Rebels and later the Don Mills Flyers, since there was no elite minor Midget system in Ottawa.
From there, Schmidt traveled to Plymouth, Michigan to participate in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program for two years. He qualified for the renowned program since he was born in Michigan while his parents were coaches there.
Now, the Tampa Bay Lightning third-round pick is one of the Rangers’ best defensemen.
The kids teased him when they found out he was duplicating both a hockey player and a figure skater, but he looks back fondly. Plus, all that fancy footwork paid off.
âJust doing a lot of turns and putting myself in awkward situations that you won’t use in a game just makes you more comfortable around your edges,â he said. âIt all translates into games when you use both of your feet. “
Schmidt’s father now teaches figure skating in Milton and, for the first time in years, can regularly watch his son in action.
His mother is also a staunch supporter but lives in Michigan – for now – with her 12-year-old brother, Gabriel, who plays for a club just outside Detroit.
Schmidt hopes she can join her father at Rangers games soon.
In the meantime, he will continue to defend the area and score goals for the Blueshirts – he leads the Rangers with five scorers – who are on a 5-1 start.
Don’t expect him to make a twizzle for the boys in practice.
âI don’t think most of them really know I was a figure skater,â he said.