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Wild about deuces in Durham

by Bob Snow

If the No. 2 jersey were available, University of New Hampshire coach Dick Umile may well have assigned it to James vanRiemsdyk, rather than the No. 21 that the freshman will wear in Agganis Arena Friday night for his collegiate debut against Boston University.

VanRiemsdyk, the No. 2 pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2007 Entry Draft, is among 11 first-round picks in a bumper crop of collegians. Nine more went in the second round.

VanRiemsdyk wasted little time making an impression in Durham. He scored two of UNH's three goals last Friday in the team's only preseason warm-up before Hockey East action begins.

Heralded as the most complete player in school history, vanRiemsdyk has big skates to fill in a program that boasts alumni like Jason Krog, Ty Conklin, Mark Mowers, and Darren Haydar.

"We knew he was the complete player entering the draft," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said of the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder. "He's got size, skill, and he handles the puck very well. Early on, we looked at him. As the year went along, we knew he would be part of a final group in our draft plans."

All that vanRiemsdyk did last season was to lead the U.S. National Team Development Program in scoring with 33 goals and 30 assists in 42 games.

How did UNH get the prized forward to come to Durham?

"He and his dad came here on their own," Umile said. "He's a (Middletown) New Jersey kid. The sell here is the program's success. He wants to go on and play pro, and the program has that success also."

Wildcat history is steeped in NHL players and postseason play, with four Frozen Four appearances since 1999. In two of those appearances -- 1999 and 2003 -- the 'Cats made it to the championship game, coming up short against Maine and Minnesota, respectively.

VanRiemsdyk and family did some recruiting homework, but the decision was easy once they experienced the Granite State and the Whittemore Center, one of the top college hockey barns in the country.

"This was one of the first schools I visited," vanRiemsdyk said. "It has a great atmosphere, campus, great coaching staff and a really great reputation. My mind was open about the recruiting process, but this place really wowed me from the beginning. They were the favorite the whole time. I like their style of play."

So do the Wildcat faithful that sell out the "Whitt" to see a tank full of 'Cats with up-tempo octane; New Hampshire has been one of the highest-scoring teams in the country each and every season throughout the past decade.

Did vanRiemsdyk do any homework about the school's title drought?

"Yeah," he smiled, "I heard the nickname leading into the draft that 'UNH' stands for 'University of No Hardware,'” he said. “They've had some great teams, but couldn't quite get over that final hump and win the national title. This is a talented and deep roster with great goaltending. I think we've got the team here with some work to get that result."

What's Umile's assessment about the No. 1 need of his No. 2 pick?

"These freshmen come from some pretty good programs," said Umile, "but what they have to understand and respect is the level of competition they're going to see in Division I. As good as James and the rest of a very good freshmen class is, it's who he's going to compete against that's going to make him a better player. He's going to be a dynamite player here. But the learning curve will be playing at this level."

Two of Umile's senior captains already see a maturity level not common among most freshmen.

"He's got the most potential I've seen (here)," said stellar goaltender and assistant captain Kevin Regan, who attended the Boston Bruins development camp in July. "One of the first on the ice for practice; one of the last off. The complete package, no real weakness.

"Obviously he's going to be a target against bigger and stronger players. Every team we play will try to shut him down. But he knows he doesn't have to carry this team. He'll have some great support."

That support will come from his linemates, captain Matt Fornataro and Mike Radja, a pair of seniors who not only complement the freshman's size, but have no shortage of scoring ability with 77 points between them in 2006-07.

"I like this team; everyone appears to want to play for the front of the jersey, not the back," said vanRiemsdyk. "This is a very unselfish team as we begin."

Has life changed for the top college pick?

"I just go about my business of going to school and playing hockey," he said. "People know who I am and that's great, but I'm not drawing any attention to myself."

On Friday, he'll draw BU's attention and there doesn’t figure to be any letup for the next six months.

"He doesn't need any babysitting, that's for sure," said defenseman Brad Flaishans. "But when you've dominated at previous levels, you expect that right away. When that doesn't happen, you can get down on yourself. My advice is: 'You know you're a great player, so keep your head up. There will always be bumps in the road. It's a matter of smoothing those out and going with the flow.'"

"Obviously, the NHL is pretty excited about him," said Umile. "The Flyers are pretty excited. We're excited to have him."

"I'm more excited than nervous," said vanRiemsdyk, who cites Rick Nash as his NHL role model. "I got the chance to meet Nash at the draft. Not only is he a good player, but he does a lot in Columbus and for the community. I really respect that about someone who's a skilled player as he is. The ideal thing is to be a good player and a better person off the ice."

On Friday, vanRiemsdyk begins those two paths along that never-ending road.

On Campus Clips -- The other 10 first-round draft choices last June are Wisconsin's Kyle Turris (No. 3 by Phoenix), Ryan McDonagh (No. 12 by Montreal) and Brendan Smith (No. 27 by Detroit); Minnesota's Patrick White (No. 25 by Vancouver) and Jim O'Brien (No. 29 by Ottawa); BU's Kevin Shattenkirk (No. 14 by Colorado); Notre Dame's Ian Cole (No. 18 by St. Louis); Cornell's Riley Nash (No. 21 by Edmonton); Michigan's Max Pacioretty (No. 22 by Montreal); and BC's Nick Petrecki (No. 28 by San Jose). ... Winners of last weekend’s major tournaments include Minnesota, 4-3 over Michigan in the Ice Breaker Tournament; Ohio State over Wisconsin, 5-3, in the Lefty McFadden Tournament; and Minnesota-Duluth over Northern Michigan, 4-0, in the Superior Cup. ... North Dakota put a stamp of approval on the preseason pollsters’ No. 1 designation with a 6-0 drubbing of national champion Michigan State in the U.S. Hall of Fame Game. ... New Hampshire coach Dick Umile's next win will be No. 400, putting him among nine active Division I coaches with 400 or more; BC's Jerry York is No. 1 with 779. Top 10

  1. North Dakota
  2. Minnesota
  3. Denver
  4. Miami
  5. New Hampshire
  6. Michigan
  7. Boston College
  8. Michigan State
  9. Boston University
10. Wisconsin
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