Outside UNH's Whittemore Center, a sunny day was the setting as vanRiemsdyk headed to practice -- his college performance and NHL forecast in symmetry with the weather.
Heralded as the most complete package in Wildcats history, vanRiemsdyk had big skates to fill in a program that has boasted players like Jason Krog, Ty Conklin, Mark Mowers and Darren Haydar.
"We knew he was the complete player entering the (2007 Entry) Draft," said Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren in June 2007 when he tapped vanRiemsdyk with the second pick after he led the U.S. National Team Development Program with 33 goals and 30 assists in 42 games.
Last April, Sports Illustrated labeled him the No. 1 college prospect across the 58 teams.
|James vanRiemsdyk was named as the top college prospect in Sports Illustrated last April. (Photo courtesy UNH) |
He remains the highest NHL draft pick on any campus as his No. 9 Wildcats look toward postseason play and that elusive first national championship.
How does the UNH campus respond to the far-away fanfare?
"We haven't talked about it," said coach Dick Umile. "He's a pretty mature kid. He understands -- it's out of his control. At this point he's OK."
How did the chiseled 6-foot-3, 209-pound power forward respond to the unfounded trade hype?
"It first started on my Facebook with people saying there are trade rumors and you're going here and there and blah, blah, blah," said vanRiemsdyk. "Hockey's a business and the NHL is a business. GMs are going to do what's best for their team."
Not much different from what vanRiemsdyk has done for UNH since Day 1.
"When he came in," said senior captain Greg Collins, "he was expected to play at a higher level and he picked it up right away. This year he's so much stronger, and you can see his will to get to the net. He makes things happen. He's put more on his shoulders and expects to make certain plays -- and he does. He carries the team night in and night out. A lot of our success is because of him."
"The little things, like battling for pucks and being stronger, better positionally -- these get you ready for the next level," said vanRiemsdyk about his focus. "Sometimes you see guys score a hundred points in college and then they get to the next level and their abilities don't really translate.
He has 13 goals and 35 points in 30 games this year, a notch up from the 11 goals and 34 points in 31 games last season. For vanRiemsdyk, the magnet and bull's-eye are worn with each shift.
"I've talked about that with Colin Wilson (the No. 7 pick by Nashville in 2008) at BU and some other guys," said vanRiemsdyk. "You obviously play against the best 'D' pairings and opposing players. You just have to fight through it because those are challenges you have to get used to."
Getting used to life without vanRiemsdyk may be creeping into the bigger picture at New Hampshire.
"With his experience," said Umile, "he plays at a very high level, like a senior."
Does Umile expect vanRiemsdyk to become a senior?
"That would be really nice, but I think that's like a dream. I'd like him to just become a junior," said Umile.
"He's obviously going to the next level," said Collins. "I don't know what he's doing next year, but he's definitely up there with the best I've seen over my four years."
What does vanRiemsdyk think about his eventual NHL landing site?
"Getting drafted is the thrill of a lifetime," he said. "It gets you up to come to the rink and work hard. I'd get up at 5:30 in the morning and drive (90 minutes each way) to work out with their training staff and some of the other Flyers (during the summer). They've been nothing but great to me -- first class. Since the Flyers did draft me, there is a connection there."
Now that the trade deadline has passed, the connection remains in place between vanRiemsdyk and Philadelphia.