In James van Riemsdyk’s first NHL season, he and the Philadelphia Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Now in his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, they are in line to qualify for the postseason for the first time since before the 2005 lockout. Imagine for a minute that the Leafs win the Stanley Cup in 2013, if that happens the 23-year-old could reach rock-star status in the fishbowl known as Toronto.
Make no mistake about it, the native of Middletown, New Jersey has been a key cog in the Maple Leafs return to prominence this season; his 27 points (16g-11a) in 39 games have been crucial to Toronto as they wind down their best season in nearly a decade. The trade that sent him from Philadelphia to Toronto (for Luke Schenn) seemed lopsided in the Leafs direction at the time it was made and even more so now as the Flyers languish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Get used to this Flyers’ fans — JvR makes a power move around Schenn and scores against his old team:
After his first (and only) visit to New Jersey this season (unless the Leafs & New Jersey Devils meet in postseason play), the Hockey Writers visited with the Jersey Boy to ask him a few questions about coming home, family and his four NHL seasons.
The Hockey Writers: The win tonight gives your team five wins in eight games, how important is it for a young group as you make a playoff push?
James van Riemsdyk: “It’s huge; they (the Devils) are another team that is in the mix for the playoffs, kind of right behind us. These are huge points and we found a way to win it.”
THW: Eleven road wins in 19 chances, what has led to that success?
JvR: “I think we really respond to the challenge of playing in opposing venues and it’s been a strength for us all year.”
JvR scores against the reigning Vezina Trophy winner:
THW: You had two penalties tonight, what’s up with that? Did you agree with them?
JvR: (laughs) “The first one probably was a good call (hooking), the second one (tripping), we talked about it after and he (the ref) kind of agreed that maybe he stepped on my stick. But, it is what it is; we were able to get the win and that’s all that matters.”
THW: Is it always special for you to come back to New Jersey and play here?
JvR: “Yeah, even now it’s a little bit more special because obviously I’m not as close to home now. I think I definitely appreciate games like this; it’s always fun to play in front of your friends and family.”
THW: Your brothers are playing college hockey now…
JvR: “My middle brother Trevor, is at UNH (University of New Hampshire) and my youngest brother Brendan, he’s actually here tonight (he also is at UNH). He flew up (to Toronto) for the game against the Flyers and then flew right back for this one. It’s always a good time for me when I see them.”
THW: Do you keep tabs on them as far as how they are doing and producing?
JvR: “Yeah, I love watching them play. I think Trevor has really put a lot of the work in, and I give him a lot of credit. He was weighing out whether or not he wanted to play some Junior hockey to try to play Division I (college hockey) or maybe go to Division III after his senior year in high school. I give him some credit because he made himself into the player he is today. He always had the ability, but he maybe just needed to challenge himself a little bit; he was always working hard and I’m happy to see the success that he’s having.”
THW: What was the experience of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie like for you?
JvR: “That was huge, a great experience in my first year in the NHL. I think I got a little spoiled because some players play their whole careers and never make the playoffs, let alone play in a Cup Final. Now it’s something I shoot for every year, to get back. I know what it takes to get there, so I guess that’s the good part of it; but you also realize how hard it is to get there too.”
THW: As a kid from New Jersey, what are your thoughts on this year’s NHL Draft being held in NJ at the Prudential Center (June 30) and next year’s Draft being held in Philadelphia?
JvR: “It’s always been a pretty good area for hockey players. I think there was a string of players that started two years before my draft year and ended two years after I was drafted — there was a guy from New Jersey drafted in the first round all of those years. I think it just says a lot about players from this area and I think it’s going to be pretty cool to have the draft here this coming season.”
Players drafted in Round 1 from New Jersey:
2005: Bobby Ryan
2006: Bobby Sanguinetti
2007: James van Riemsdyk
2008: John Carlson
2009: Kyle Palmieri
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.