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Van Riemsdyk’s return adds stability, not surprise

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
(Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks)

TAMPA -- It’s not as though the Blackhawks ache for a secret weapon at this point. Besides, Trevor van Riemsdyk would be disqualified on one count. He skates with the Blackhawks daily, before a horde of international media, so he’s not hiding.

On the other hand, van Riemsdyk could take some minutes from the four warhorses on defense. Although not expected to dress for Saturday night’s Game 2 here against the Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 57 is likely to join this Stanley Cup Final next week at the United Center.

Know this for sure. If Head Coach Joel Quenneville trusts anybody to partake of his first National Hockey League action since November on this stage, it is van Riemsdyk, a cerebral 23-year-old late bloomer who came out of central casting to make a loaded roster in training camp.

“Be ready, that’s all I’ve been told,” van Riemsdyk said. “It would be pretty cool, that’s for sure, being on the biggest stage. You dream of that since you’re a kid shooting pucks in the driveway. But even though this is the series for the Cup, it’s still just a hockey game, on the same 200 by 85.”

That paragraph sums up why TVR provides Coach Q a perpetual comfort zone. The boss dreads those physical and mental mistakes generally associated with young players, and the fact is that van Riemsdyk seems immune from both.

He played only 18 games before incurring a fractured left patella, but performed with such poise and simplicity that Quenneville started tossing around adjectives he normally bestows on Hall of Famers, horses and family. Plus, TVR is a sponge. Tell him something once, you’ll never have to tell him again. One more thing: Being a right shot helps.

That’s nice, but again, is he ready? Well, van Riemsdyk comes with playoff beard in full. Upon being cleared to play after knee surgery, he joined the Rockford IceHogs, only to incur a wrist injury. On April 7, he went under the knife again. However, TVR now skates with and after the regulars, until Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen calls it a day.

“I feel pretty good,” van Riemsdyk said. “Obviously, there’s a difference between getting back in shape and getting back in hockey shape. There’s no substitute for being in a game. But if it happens, it would be a great way to end an unbelievable year for me.

“I’ve been texting back and forth with my brother, James. He was with Philadelphia when they played the Blackhawks for the Cup in 2010. Either way, if you told me last June that I’d be where I am now, I wouldn’t have thought it possible.”

During his rehabilitation, except for the holidays when he went home to New Jersey, van Riemsdyk spent time in his Chicago apartment. Mother Allison visited for a while, to cook and “make my life easy.” So did fellow Blackhawks.

“They made me feel comfortable and welcome from the first day in September,” van Riemsdyk said. “I don’t have a bad word for anybody in that dressing room. When I went down with the knee injury, guys like Brent Seabrook called. Anything I need, let him know.

“I watched a lot of TV, a lot of sports. The one thing you don’t want to try is getting around on crutches when there’s a lot of winter going on outside. You don’t want to be crutching around when there’s ice or a foot of snow. That’s not good for the rehab process. You see a sheet of ice, you try to avoid it.”

However, on the sheet of ice that is his natural habitat, van Riemsdyk has excelled. James was heralded, a No. 2 draft choice in 2007, just behind Patrick Kane. Trevor never got a sniff. But Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman and his staff did grunt work, watched TVR evolve at the University of New Hampshire and signed him as a long shot, an unrestricted free agent with a chance.

“Surreal,” said van Riemsdyk, smiling as always. “I tried in camp to take it day by day. Make an impression, but I didn’t have any ‘wow’ moments. Make good reads, be in position, don’t get caught doing anything that causes trouble.

“Why all the injuries? I don’t know. Broke my ankle in college, which is when I met Stan. Then the knee. That puck against Dallas just hit me above the shin pad. Perfect spot. Or imperfect. Then the wrist. Hope they’re all behind me. Bad karma. Did I do something wrong?”

On the ice, when in uniform, rarely.

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