forward James van Riemsdyk
can remember the first time mom and dad took him on the ice. Problem is, he wanted no part of it.
"It was an outdoor rink in Old Bridge (N.J.) and I really didn't want to go," van Riemsdyk told NHL.com. "But once I was out there, they couldn't get me off. I kind of loved it at the first go there, so it was great."
Van Riemsdyk would become the highest draftee -- No. 2 by Philadelphia in 2007 -- from the Garden State since Brian Lawton
, who was born in New Brunswick but played at a prep school in Rhode Island. Lawton was taken with the first pick of the Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars in 1983 at the old Montreal Forum.
"JVR" played three years for the American Eagles youth program, which is run by the Monmouth County Youth Hockey Association, and then for the Brick Hockey Club for six years before excelling in high school.
He won't ever forget his final season of high school hockey at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft under head coach and former Merrimack All-American Mike Reynolds. It was during the 2004-05 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association non-public schools championship game where van Riemsdyk's heroics gained him legendary status among the all-time scholastic greats of New Jersey. His dramatic goal with 6:17 left in overtime gave CBA a 2-1 victory over Delbarton of Morristown at the then home of the New Jersey Devils
, Continental Airlines Arena.
To this day, it's a goal he hasn't forgotten and neither have family, friends and classmates.
"I wanted to play with my buddies and win a state title and, looking back, if that's something I wouldn't have gotten to do, I would have regretted that because that was really special for me," he said. "Growing up, I remember just wanting to play for the high school team and to get a chance to do that and live out your dream. It was definitely a good stepping stone."
Prior to joining the University of New Hampshire, van Riemsdyk played for the United States National Team Development Program in 2006-07, where he recorded team-highs of 33 goals, 63 points, 81 penalty minutes, 11 power-play goals and 6 game-winning goals for the Under-18 squad.
"Ron Rolston was my coach and he did a great job, as did assistants John Lilley
and Chadd Cassidy; all three had a great impact on me," van Riemsdyk said. "To be with guys like Erik Johnson
and Pat Kane, that was huge to see how all those guys went about their business. Especially E.J., he's a really serious guy and intense. So to watch him go about his business and see how hard he worked was pretty inspirational for me to know what I needed to do to go onto my next year."
Van Riemsdyk represented the United States at three World Junior Championship tournaments, recording 4 goals and 10 points in 2009 when Team USA finished fifth in Ottawa. At the '08 WJC in the Czech Republic, van Riemsdyk led all players with 11 points, but the United States lost to Russia in the bronze-medal game. He had 1 goal in seven games at the '07 WJC in Sweden as the U.S. finished third.
"It was a huge honor to play in that tournament three times," he said. "To go for the first time and soak it all in and then be one of the go-to guys in the last two was special. But it was disappointing we didn't finish a little better. I had great memories and learned a lot as a hockey player."
The 21-year-old left wing, who totaled 28 goals and 74 points in two seasons at the University of New Hampshire, feels that high school, college and international exposure within the United States was vital to his success as a pro in the NHL. In his sophomore campaign at UNH, his final collegiate season before signing a professional contract with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk finished eighth in Hockey East in scoring with 40 points. He was tied for seventh in goals (17) and finished first with 4 shorthanded goals. He was named to the All-Hockey East Second Team at the end of the regular season.
"USA Hockey did a lot for me as a hockey player," he said. "Going to that Select Festival when I was 15 kind of opened a lot of doors for me with the national program and college. I owe everything I have to the USA Hockey program."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale