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A Friendly Rivalry

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

The first meeting between the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs is a celebration of U.S Hockey. It's also a renewal of a rivalry between two players that has spanned nearly two decades.

James van Riemsdyk of the Leafs and Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues are the best of friends these days but, as kids, adversarial would be an apt description.

James van Riemsdyk grew up in Middleton, New Jersey while Shattenkirk hails from nearby New Rochelle, New York.

Van Riemsdyk starred for the Brick N.J. minor league system while Shattenkirk was a marquee player for the New Jersey Devils youth organization team. Inevitably, the run to a championship meant going through each other figuratively, but often literally says van Riemsdyk.

"It was always a battle, our two teams definitely didn't like each other growing up. For some reason both teams had players who didn't get along very much," said van Riemsdyk. "It brought out a side in me that I didn't even know existed."

Shattenkirk remembers the rivalry well and doesn't hold back when describing his feelings for the lanky star from Middletown.

"He was a kid I really hated growing up, a little pest on the ice with great skills and someone who could really make you pay. That really is what kind of got to me."

Shattenkirk and van Riemsdyk would take their rivalry to the NCAA ranks with van Riemsdyk attending the University of New Hampshire and Shattenkirk going to Boston University.

Shattenkirk looks back on their college days with a smile, but it wasn't always that way.

"Now we're good buddies and we get to joke about it. He had my number in college, there's a highlight floating around that isn't too pretty on my end," said Shattenkirk. "For us to kind of go through this as kids until now is tremendous, to have a friend like that the entire way."

Both players came together under the umbrella of the U.S Development Program playing together in the 2009 World Junior Championships, the 2011 World Championships and, of course, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

But for van Riemsdyk, as memorable as those events were, nothing might compare to the competitive nature of their youth teams back in the day - on and off the ice.

"I remember vividly we were playing in a tournament, there was a fight in the stands between the parents. Things usually got out of hand and I laugh about it now, but back then it was a little crazy."

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