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Blackhawks' van Riemsdyk takes Cup to Jersey Shore

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

BRICK, N.J. -- Trevor van Riemsdyk had been smiling and taking pictures for 90 minutes Thursday morning when he and the Stanley Cup finally got a break. This should have been the time when van Riemsdyk, the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman celebrating his day with the Cup, got a coffee, sat down, basically took a load off for a few minutes.

No way. Not on this day.

Van Riemsdyk went back into the Zamboni area at the Ocean Ice Palace around 10:45 a.m., near a garage that opened to a back lot, where his dad, Frans, was running the air conditioner in the black Chevy Suburban that would take him to his next stop, his high school, Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, N.J.

He was still smiling after taking pictures and sharing the Cup with members of Brick Stars Challenger Hockey, a program for developmentally challenged kids that he and his family support, as he stood and conducted the first of his two interviews while Frans was trying to get the traveling party on the road.

"It's all good," van Riemsdyk said to NHL.com. "I've been smiling all summer."

As he should be.

Van Riemsdyk had the Stanley Cup on Thursday because of his belief in himself and his ability to overcome the odds, the same belief that everyone close to him, including his family and especially his older brother, James, a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has had in him.

He was not a junior star. He was not drafted. He played three years of high school hockey in New Jersey before he went to play in the now defunct Eastern Junior Hockey League, a tier 3 junior A league that launched him to the University of New Hampshire and eventually the Blackhawks.

"I remember his freshman year at CBA, my son was a senior, and I went over to Frans and I said, 'Boy, he's one of the smartest defenseman I've ever watched on the ice,'" said Alex DePalma, the executive director of Brick Stars Challenger Hockey. "He took a different route."

Van Riemsdyk had the Stanley Cup because being knocked down by injuries didn't mean that he didn't know how to get up. A broken left ankle ended his junior season at New Hampshire but didn't stop the Blackhawks from signing him as a free agent last year. Eighteen games into his NHL career, after playing more than 21 minutes in his 17th game, he sustained a broken left patella blocking a shot.

"I just missed the end of my previous year with the ankle injury and then to come back, be playing pretty good, be feeling that the future was looking good, and then to have an injury like that, it's like, 'Why again?'" van Riemsdyk said. "I just did this. I just came back. But family members, teammates, they don't let you sulk for too long. Sulking will get you nowhere."

When he was getting close to returning for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he injured his wrist playing in an American Hockey League game and needed surgery.

The only way he was going to return last season was if the Blackhawks made the Cup Final and decided to use a rookie defenseman who hadn't played an NHL game since Nov. 16.

"You get your surgery on April 7, so what does eight weeks get you? Well, it gets you to June 7 or so," James van Riemsdyk said. "What are going to be the chances that you'll be in the middle of the Final? And what would be the odds that they'd throw him in?"

They did, for the final four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Van Riemsdyk played a total of 28:09 in those games, but it was enough to make everything he went through worthwhile, to help the Blackhawks win the Cup.

"They showed the confidence to throw him in there, so it became an exciting and pretty cool story," James said.

The story continued Thursday, starting at the Ocean Ice Palace with van Riemsdyk surrounded by kids and fans, family members and friends, some he knows well and others who only know him because of who he is, where he's from, and what's he's done.

He took the Cup to his old high school and for a public viewing in his hometown of Middletown, N.J., where he received a key to the city. The family also had plans for a backyard gathering with the Cup, a boat ride with the Cup and a private reception for 150 people at Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, N.J.

This wasn't why van Riemsdyk did everything he could last season to overcome his injuries. That was for him and the Blackhawks, so, as he said, he could be an option if they needed him. But his nonstop smile Thursday was for the kids, the community, the people he cherishes, the people who never thought his path was wrong or his injuries were too significant.

"I don't know if it's fully sunk in quite yet, but bringing it to something like this and seeing some of the smiles on these kids' faces, to bring it back to a rink like this where I played for a number of years, to these people who helped me get to where I am today, it's pretty fun," van Riemsdyk said. "That makes it so much more special when you do stuff like this, to be able to share it with people, especially those that are close to you in places like this. It makes it worth that much more to give back and say thank you for all the help and support they've given me along the way."

The support isn't going away. As much as winning the Cup and bringing it home is the pinnacle for every hockey player, it's only the beginning for van Riemsdyk.

Earlier this month, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Blackhawks that will take him through the 2017-18 season. He's 24 years old.

"I know I have to prove myself and show myself again, to show them that I'm the guy I was before I got hurt," van Riemsdyk said. "It's pretty much up to me. It's on me to show them I can be consistent and help contribute and do whatever they ask of me."

All indications are that the Blackhawks expect him to be in their top-six defense group this season, the same place he surprisingly was at the start of last season and again at the end.

"It's a great story," James van Riemsdyk said. "You can look at the last year, but you can look even before that, when he wasn't even sure if he was just going to play Division 3 college hockey and try to go to a good academic school to get his degree. Obviously, he took that chance to play junior hockey to take a run at being a player. I'm not sure at that point if this was in his future. What is this now, six years later? So it's pretty incredible. I'm really proud of him and excited for him to have this day."

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