Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk was 15 years old when he met his new general manager, Lou Lamoriello, for the first time.
It was in December of 2004 and van Riemsdyk was being honored at a luncheon as a New Jersey High School Hockey Player of the Month, an award created and presented by the New Jersey Devils.
Lamoriello, formerly the GM and president of the Devils, was at the luncheon.
"It's kind of cool how it comes full circle," van Riemsdyk said last week in Brick, N.J., where he was tagging along with his brother, Trevor, a defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks, on his day with the Stanley Cup. "Here we go, fast forward almost 12 years later, and he's one of my bosses. That's pretty cool.
James van Riemsdyk
Left Wing - TOR
Goals: 27 | Assists: 29 | Pts: 56
Shots: 248 | +/-: -33
"I probably wouldn't be playing in the NHL if it wasn't for Lou Lamoriello and what he did for hockey in this area [New Jersey]. I'm excited to get to know him on a more personal basis."
Van Riemsdyk is excited about a lot of things going on around the Maple Leafs this offseason.
He said the changes the Maple Leafs have made, particularly hiring Mike Babcock as coach and Dr. Jeremy Bettle as the new director of sports science & performance, are encouraging from a player's perspective.
Van Riemsdyk was especially effusive about the hiring of Dr. Bettle, who was brought on to oversee all areas of strength and conditioning, nutrition, injury prevention and rehabilitation for every player in the organization. Van Riemsdyk said he likes that the organization is "putting every resource in place possible for us to be the best players and the best team we can be.
"You see what they're doing obviously on the outside with hiring different people in management and coaches, but the stuff behind the scenes, the things they're doing to track performance and health, is all very encouraging," he continued. "They're making the commitment and that starts up top with ownership. They're making a commitment to different things to really make sure that there is no excuse if you put the work in."
The only negative of the summer for van Riemsdyk is that his good friend, Phil Kessel, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, van Riemsdyk, who was traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Maple Leafs in 2012, said he knows why it happened and understands the reasoning.
Toronto finished 27th in the NHL last season with 68 points after finishing 23rd in 2013-14 with 84 points.
"We're good friends and I enjoyed playing with him for three years, but we know when things end the way they did the last two years there is going to be change," van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously he was the guy they decided to move. We have to be ready to move on the ice, but when one of your friends moves on it's definitely one of those things when you feel emotional about it."