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NHL Winter Classic

Outdoor hockey ritual for van Riemsdyk family

Facing elements tradition for Trevor van Riemsdyk of Blackhawks, James van Riemsdyk of Maple Leafs

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- They pulled their skates on under the lights, the conditions making for a picture-perfect evening on the ice. Though the weather doesn't always cooperate, it did on Christmas Eve for the van Riemsdyk clan, enabling the three brothers - Trevor, James, and Brendan - along with family and friends to take part in a long-time tradition: outdoor hockey.

It was a preview for all three brothers this year, with each of them taking part not just in the informal family game, but in major outdoor games.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk played in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk is set to play in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues on Monday at Busch Stadium (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). Brendan van Riemsdyk will finish up the slate with the University of New Hampshire at Frozen Fenway in Boston on Jan. 14.

"We're not out there doing anything too crazy," Trevor said on Sunday, after the Blackhawks practiced at Busch Stadium. "Just having a lot of fun, passing the puck around. It's mostly just to be out there in the fresh air, having fun.

"Just a few people, so it doesn't get too crowded. Afterward we hang out a little bit and just have some family and friend time, then you head home, whether it's Christmas Day and open your presents or Christmas Eve and go back and hang out and play some games - card games, board games, whatever it may be."

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Trevor van Riemsdyk said he wasn't quite sure how long the family has held the tradition. It went back as far as high school, he believed, but has mostly occurred on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day since the brothers left home to chase their hockey dreams. Still, it didn't happen every year, due mostly to the vagaries of New Jersey weather. It's not like Winnipeg or Edmonton, he acknowledged. The ice isn't always available.

But when it is? They're out there, at Navesink Country Club near his childhood home in Middletown, New Jersey.

"We skated at that rink when we were really small," Trevor said. "Obviously it's 50-50 in New Jersey whether you have ice or not. You're always praying that it's just cold enough and there's no rain."

They're always hoping that everything will come together to allow them the chance. As he said, "It's just special being out there with the two brothers and my dad."

And perhaps even more so this year.

"It's definitely cool when you have that outdoor game to look forward to, knowing you're going to be doing it on a little bigger stage in a week or two," Trevor said. "We all got our little warmup in there."

The number of outdoor games this year actually has created a conundrum for the van Riemsdyk family. With mother Allison remaining home, father Frans headed to Toronto to watch the Maple Leafs and Red Wings play. He will then go on the road with the Maple Leafs as part of the annual fathers' trip the team hosts. Later in the month, Fran will travel to Boston for Brendan's outdoor game.

That means Trevor will be without his parents in St. Louis. But Frans will head to Chicago soon for the fathers' trip there. Plus, Trevor figured that the Blackhawks seem to play outdoors quite a bit, and his parents would get to see the next one. Plus, they already saw the last one, when Trevor played outside in the 2016 NHL Stadium Series game against the Minnesota Wild.

"I'm sure my dad will find a way to be tuned in," Trevor said, of the Winter Classic. "He always is."

For now, though, his family already got to see him play in the fresh air, under the lights, though with a bit less at stake and with a bit less competitive spirit. But it was special all the same.

"It starts to become a little more difficult to have the whole family together, so when you do have them together, you can treasure those times," Frans van Riemsdyk said in an interview that aired on EPIX in the "Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics." "There's nothing like skating outside."

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