But for James van Riemsdyk
, one of the Flyers' top prospects, the World Juniors is old hat. He was the elder statesman of this year’s Team USA.
The 19-year-old has traveled the world – playing in the Czech Republic, Sweden, and now Ottawa over the last three Christmas holidays – to compete against the top under-20 players in the world.
“It seems like such a long time ago that I started playing in this tournament,” van Riemsdyk said. “This has been unbelievable. These are the best players in the world at this age. This is pretty much the top level of play other than the NHL.”
Van Riemsdyk just didn’t expect his age eligibility in the tournament to run out in the fifth place game at Scotiabank Place on Sunday. He wanted to be playing one more day.
|James van Riemsdyk celebrates one of his six goals in this year's World Junior Championships in Ottawa. (Getty Images) |
Following a stunning 5-3 loss to Slovakia in the quarterfinal round, Team USA was relegated to battling for fifth against the Czech Republic. It was a shocking turn for a team that many had prognosticated to be in the hunt for the gold medal with Canada and Sweden.
“It is sad to see us end like this, with us not getting anywhere near where we wanted to be,” van Riemsdyk said. “I just felt stunned [after the loss]. That is the hottest goalie I have ever played against.
“But we still needed to go out and play hard against the Czechs. You still have to represent your country well when you put that USA jersey on,” van Riemsdyk said.
He did that by scoring the overtime game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic in spectacular fashion.
For the second tournament in a row, van Riemsdyk was near the top of the scoring list. Last year, van Riemsdyk led the entire tournament in scoring with 11 points in six games en route to being named to the media’s All-Tournament Team.
This year, his total was similar (six goals, four assists) but that only tied him for fourth in tournament scoring. Still, as one of only a handful of players in USA Hockey history to play in three World Junior tournaments, van Riemsdyk moved into second all-time in tournament goals (12) for a USA player. He is also now tied for fifth in assists over a tournament career with 10.
To put that in perspective, he passed players like Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, John LeClair and Mike Modano on the scoring list – an elite group.
Van Riemsdyk hasn’t had much trouble scoring in his sophomore campaign at the University of New Hampshire, either. Just prior to the World Juniors, van Riemsdyk jumped to second in the entire NCAA scoring. He leads UNH with 26 points this season – 10 more than his next closest teammate.
But he would still like to see his Wildcats get in gear in the second half of the season.
“Personally, it has been a pretty good year,” van Riemsdyk said. “But as a team, we really haven’t gotten into a flow. It has been up and down all year. We’re still in the hunt, so hopefully we can turn it around and get into the [NCAA] tournament.”
Besides the change in venue for this year’s tournament, another thing that has changed is van Riemsdyk’s physique. The once lanky 190-pounder bulked up to 211 pounds this offseason with the help of Flyers strength and conditioning coach, Jim McCrossin.
Van Riemsdyk traveled to the Flyers practice facility in Voorhees from his home in Middletown, New Jersey, on a daily basis to workout with the Flyers’ fitness guru. Thus far, van Riemsdyk is noticing a big difference.
“It has definitely helped a lot, I feel totally different this year,” van Riemsdyk said. “On the ice, it helps with things like confidence. I have played a lot more minutes this year and I’m not nearly as tired as I once was. It has effected my stamina tremendously. I’ve really been handling the minutes well.
|Van Riemsdyk eyes his overtime winner in the fifth place game against the Czech Republic in this year's World Juniors. (Getty Images) |
“That is just thanks to guys like Jimmy. He did a really good job working with me, and it made it worth it driving to Voorhees every day.”
A little more than halfway into his sophomore season, van Riemsdyk has now had a chance to reflect on his decision to return to school instead of join the Flyers.
“It was definitely the right decision,” van Riemsdyk said. “It has given me a lot of confidence going back up there. I wasn’t ready yet. I feel like I am still getting stronger and still getting bigger.
“There is always opportunity for improvement,” van Riemsdyk admits.
But that doesn’t mean that leaving school isn’t something he won’t re-consider at the end of this season.
“It is something that after this season is over, we will all sit down and look at,” van Riemsdyk said. “I will talk to the Flyers and see how I fit and we will go from there.”
Besides, had he joined the Flyers or Phantoms, he would have most likely missed out on participating in an exciting – if not disappointing – tournament in a hockey-crazed country.
“Especially being in Ottawa this year, the crowd was really been into it and everyone was focused on the tournament. It was more intense. There was more media around. More people can watch the games on TV in the US with the NHL Network. It is more in the public eye; that makes a big difference.
“It has been a really great experience.”