|James van Riemsdyk is a virtual lock to play in his third World Junior Championship, a feat accomplished by only a few players in USA Hockey history. (Getty Images)
(Lake Placid, NY) - At 19, James van Riemsdyk
already is a grizzled veteran for Team USA. Perhaps that is why he is sporting the beginnings of a beard for this week's 2008 USA Hockey National Team Evaluation Camp here.
Fortunately, there are no gray hairs in his attempt at facial hair. He is still far too young for that calamity. But on the World Junior stage, van Riemsdyk is as grizzled as they come. He is a virtual lock to play in his third World Junior Championship this winter, a feat accomplished by only a few players in USA Hockey history.
He is the only player at this evaluation camp to play in the 2007 WJC and he is one of eight returning players from last year's team, which finished fourth.
With most players experiencing the rigors of the World Juniors on a one-and-done basis, van Riemsdyk is a virtual institution for Team USA here in Lake Placid. It's a position he understands and accepts.
"As you come to this camp more, you become one of the older guys and it becomes your responsibility to pass down anything you know to some of these younger guys that may be looking for something they can use to help their game," van Riemsdyk said. "You definitely gain experience from coming to this camp. If anybody has any questions for me, I'm all ears and will help any way I can."
The help van Riemsdyk provides to his teammates doesn't just come in the answers he gives to teammates willing to approach him for advice. It also comes from the way he carries himself every minute while here at Lake Placid.
Tuesday night, in Team White's 3-2 OT loss to Sweden, van Riemsdyk wore the captain's "C" for his squad, scored a power-play goal with a nice rebound stuff and played hard and with an edge all night. If you think those things go unnoticed by the younger players here at the camp, think again.
Defenseman Cam Fowler is two years younger than van Riemsdyk and is at his first evaluation camp. He is not eligible for the Entry Draft until 2010, three drafts removed from when van Riemsdyk was selected second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. To say that he is at times a little overwhelmed here in Lake Placid would be an understatement. Yet he says one of the things that makes it easy is he has the examples set by the veteran players to follow.
"I just try to watch 'Riems' and what he does every day," said Fowler, who had a strong first game Tuesday night in Team White's loss.
Ron Rolston, who will coach Team USA at the World Junior Championships, already knows what van Riemsdyk and each of the other seven returning players can do on the ice. Each held his own in the 2008 World Junior Championship. Heck, van Riemsdyk led that tournament with 11 points and was named to the tournament's all-star team.
What Rolston wants to see this week is how those returning players can lead a new crop of players through the World Junior experience.
"It's a good group of veterans that are back for camp this year and we are looking to those players to push the pace here and lead and be at the front of things in terms of what we want in pace and tempo," Rolston said. "I think all of those (returning) players were on last year's team for a reason. They have a lot of character, work hard and are persistent in terms of the challenges we are going to have at camp.
"I'm sure they will have that mindset that they want to have a great team, so I'm sure they will be pushing the pace."
Clearly, van Riemsdyk has that mindset. As mentioned, he has been one of the most dominant players here through the first few days of camp. Tuesday night, he went head-to-head against Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, the top prospect in Europe for the 2009 Entry Draft, and more than held his own.
"He's a very smart guy," says Hedman, who could go No. 1 this June in the draft. "It's always fun to go against a guy like him. He's a very good player."
But van Riemsdyk already has been around hockey long enough to know that you don't make a World Junior team on reputation alone. He's proving that to the younger players this week.
"It's a huge honor to make the (World Junior) team, so when you come to this camp, it's what everybody is shooting for," van Riemsdyk said. "So, it's your job to go out there and show them the way it should be done; play hard, never take a shift off and keep going 110 percent out there."
A 19-year vet - never mind a 19-year-old - couldn't have said it any better.