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Rookie Year an Adventure for James, Frans van Riemsdyk

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
After two years of college hockey and several international tournament experiences, James van Riemsdyk didn’t know what to expect when the Flyers assembled for training camp last September. Outstanding collegiate players are often overwhelmed in NHL camps by the higher skill levels and intensity.

“The goal I set for myself was to make the team,” van Riemsdyk said following a practice during the Flyers-New Jersey Devils first round Stanley Cup Playoff series. “I wanted to help the team (and) be a guy the team could depend on. I thought I had a pretty strong camp. I’m happy the way it worked out.”
A young James van Riemsdyk poses for a picture in suburban New Jersey. (Flyers Photos)

The feeling is mutual. Van Riemsdyk collected a respectable 15 goals and 20 assists as a rookie. “JVR”, as he is known, plus Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux give the Flyers a core of talented young forwards.

There were stretches late in the season, however, when van Riemsdyk wasn’t a prominent player. Hopefully, for his sake, that’s attributable to the grueling post-Olympics schedule where the Flyers seemed to play every other night. Then there were eye-catching games like the Flyers 1-0 loss to Montreal in which van Riemsdyk was outstanding (six shots on goal).

“I was given a good opportunity that game to play a lot of minutes,” van Riemsdyk said. “Me, Richie (Richards) and G (Giroux) did a lot of good things. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bury one. It was exciting to be out there and play in a lot of key situations.”

In future seasons, van Riemsdyk will get more ice time, including power-play minutes. Right now, the New Jersey native is still adjusting to the NHL.

“It’s part of the process, being prepared,” he said. “You have to be ready whenever your number is called. The games come one after the other, which sometimes helps because if you’ve had a rough game, you can get right back out there and put it behind you. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to be a better pro.”

Van Riemsdyk can score and skate. He’s also a slick passer and has shrewd hockey instincts.

“I try to be a well-rounded player,” he said. “I’ve worked on a lot of that stuff over the years, whether it be shooting a lot of pucks in the driveway or stick-handling golf balls.”

During the offseason Van Riemsdyk plans to increase his strength. “I don’t want to gain too much weight because I want to keep my speed,” he said. “(But) I need to get a little stronger so I can be more of a dominating presence down low.”

Lately, van Riemsdyk has been on a line with Giroux and Arron Asham.

“We feel we all bring something different to the table that helps us have some success as a line,” van Riemsdyk said. “Me and G have pretty good chemistry. (With Giroux) you always have to be ready and have your stick on the ice. He can find you almost anywhere with his passing ability and vision on the ice. Ash is really underrated. He has one of the best shots on the team. A couple times he stuck up for me: that’s something you really appreciate.”
I’m very familiar with the ride on the Turnpike and I-295. I’m getting to know the box office people (at the arenas), the ushers and fans." - Frans van Riemsdyk, James' father

The Flyers facing the Devils in a first-round playoff series is perfect scripting for van Riemsdyk’s family and friends. The family lives in Middletown, New Jersey, in Monmouth County - as many as 100 relatives and friends are attending the playoff games.

“It’s been exciting, a huge thrill,” van Riemsdyk said.

Whether van Riemsdyk’s father Frans is heading north to Newark or south to Philadelphia, he doesn’t mind.

“I’m thankful I have the opportunity to log a lot of miles,” Frans said. “I’m very familiar with the ride on the Turnpike and I-295. I’m getting to know the box office people (at the arenas), the ushers and fans.”

Frans, his wife Allison and sons Trevor and Brendan are enjoying JVR’s rookie ride.

“We’re thrilled for James,” his father said. “Looking back, I think a lot of people considered him a long shot to make the team. But he got off to a quick start.”

Frans, who works in the marine terminal business, says the Flyers have made James feel at home.

“A young player, or anyone in a new job, wants to feel comfortable,” Frans said. “The older players, and those in their mid-20s, have made him comfortable. I’ve read about (the alleged) division in the locker room between the older and younger players. From everything James says, it’s a really good group.”

With James living alone in an apartment near the Skate Zone, the family makes sure he is cared for. When the family visits, Frans said Allison brings James some of his food “favorites.” Veterans such as Chris Pronger and Ian Laperriere, who sits next to JVR in the Skate Zone locker room, continually advise him on proper nutrition.

Adjusting to life off the ice hasn’t been too challenging for van Riemsdyk. He lived with a host family in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he played for the U.S. under-18 developmental team.

Three years ago van Riemsdyk was the second selection in the NHL Entry Draft.  After playing one season at the University of New Hampshire (11 goals, 23 assists in 31 games), the Flyers hoped the 6-3, 205-pound winger would turn pro. Instead, he decided to return to UNH for a second season (17 goals, 23 assists in 36 games).

“I thought it would be good to play another year at the world juniors, get in another year of college as a go-to guy on the team,” James said. “I came out of that (second) year a lot better player, more mature on and off the ice. We had a great coaching staff and a great group of guys. I wanted to be part of a national championship, although we came a few games short.”

Frans said having James play a second season at UNH was “a family decision. We’d made a commitment to UNH. We wanted James to get the college experience. Bigger players take longer to develop.

“I’ve read some accounts (that the Flyers were upset James didn’t turn pro after his first college season). The Flyers were very good about it: they wanted him, but they said he should do what’s best for him.”

While JVR focused on hockey, he also played soccer, baseball, and…

“He loved football,” Frans said. “He has a pretty good arm. If it weren’t for the conflict with hockey, he would’ve played football.”

Another van Riemsdyk, Trevor, is following James to UNH. This season, Trevor played junior hockey with the New Hampshire Monarch
James holds up the puck from his first NHL goal on October 24 vs. Florida. (Flyers Photos)

Near the end of my interview with James, I asked if he’s ever been called Jimmy or Jim. Smiling, he replied, “I had a soccer coach when I was 5 years old who called me Jimmy. I used to hate it: I never would answer. To this day my Dad sometimes calls me Jimmy as a joke.”

Said Frans: “When he’s giving me the business, I call him Jimmy.”

James will turn 21 on May 4. “He’s starting to show signs of legitimate whiskers,” Frans said, chuckling.

Having James in a Flyers uniform has altered the hockey allegiances of his family and many friends. The New York Rangers and Broadway are in their rear-view mirrors. Now, it’s Broad Street all the way.

Here’s a sure sign that the van Riemsdyk’s are on board with the orange and black. As our telephone conversation concluded, Frans said, “I’ll leave you with these parting words: Let’s Go Flyers!”

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1982, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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