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van Riemsdyk set to join U.S. at Worlds

by Bill Meltzer /
There were many things that went wrong for the Philadelphia Flyers in the second half of the 2010-11 season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. One of the things that went right was the emergence of second year pro James van Riemsdyk as a force to reckoned with at the NHL level. Coming off an outstanding playoff run for the Flyers, the player known simply as JVR has accepted an invitation from Team USA to join the American squad at the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia.

Although he may be unable to practice with Team USA before its medal round qualification game on Monday with Switzerland, van Riemsdyk is likely to be in the starting lineup.

"When I was asked, [I] couldn't say no. It's an honor," van Riemsdyk wrote via text message prior to his departure for Bratislava.

Originally a product of Team USA's National Team Development Program, van Riemsdyk's first game at the Worlds will mark his national team debut at the senior level. Previously, JVR represented the United States in three Under-20 World Junior championships (2007-2009) and a pair of Under-18 World Juniors (2006-2007). He won a gold medal at the 2006 Under-18s, silver at the 2007 Under-18s and a bronze medal at the 2009 tournament. The second overall pick of the 2007 Entry Draft starred in his final two Under-20 tournaments, earning All-Star honors.

The 2010-11 season was a learning experience and, ultimately, a success for van Riemsdyk. Coming off an uneven rookie season that started well and then tailed off  (but which also saw his Flyers team reach the Stanley Cup Final), van Riemsdyk spent the summer working out at the gym to add muscle and skating at the Flyers' training facility in Voorhees, N.J. There were expectations that van Riemsdyk would explode into stardom in his second NHL campaign.

It didn't start out that way. Van Riemsdyk was held without a goal in the first 17 games of the regular season before scoring the game-winning goal in a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Montreal on Nov. 22. With the weight lifted off his shoulders, he went on to score goals in three straight games. The player tallied 13 goals after New Year's to break the 20-goal barrier for the first time in his young career, finishing with 21 goals. He notched his first career hat trick on March 26 in a road game against the New York Islanders.

"The season was a little frustrating at times, but I just tried to stay positive and focused. If you keep getting scoring chances, the puck will eventually go in for you," said van Riemsdyk after the team clinched the Atlantic Division in its final regular season game.

The 22-year-old, who was a healthy scratch in a pair of November games, went on to enjoy a dominant playoff run. It was not just the seven goals he scored in his team's 11 playoff tilts. It was the way he shot the puck at will and used his rare combination of size and agility. JVR's performance against Boston in the second game of the Eastern Conference Semifinal was one of the most spectacular individual efforts by any player in the postseason this year.

There is a widespread sentiment around the NHL that JVR has only just begun to tap into a well of almost boundless potential. The knocks against him have always been that he doesn't play mean enough and doesn't make enough use of his strength to wear down opponents and set up his finesse game. An unassuming and laid-back type off the ice, van Riemdsyk dialed up his intensity level in the 2011 playoffs, and made believers out of former doubters.

In joining Team USA at the Worlds, JVR hopes to bring an instant spark to a squad that has been inconsistent in the tournament. The Americans have only suffered one loss to date -- a convincing 6-2 thumping at the hands of Team Sweden -- but have varied between looking like medal contenders and pretenders for long stretches of play within most of the games. The Americans have only scored 12 goals to date, while allowing 14.

Team USA is well situated to earn a berth in the medal round quarterfinals heading into the qualification round finale against Switzerland. With eight spots up for grabs in the medal round, the Americans presently have 7 points in the tourney. If van Riemsdyk plays anything like the way he did in most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Team USA has a better chance at putting together a strong performance in the single-elimination medal round.
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