CHICAGO -- Trevor van Riemsdyk had reasons to worry his hockey future was in doubt after what he saw and felt in January.
Van Riemsdyk, then a junior defenseman at the University of New Hampshire, was checked into the boards by an opponent and his left ankle bent in the wrong direction as he fell to the ice.
The pain told him immediately something was wrong, but what he saw in the shape of his ankle shortly later made him fearful he would never get a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NHL.
“When it first happened, you don’t know exactly what is wrong,” van Riemsdyk said. “You hope for the best, but it’s kind of in the back of your head that maybe things might end before they even start. It ended up being the best of the situation, just kind of a clean break and nothing too lingering.
“Yeah, definitely crosses your mind when you’re lying on the trainer’s table and your ankle is the size of a softball. It ended up working for the best.”
Van Riemsdyk was able to share his story Monday easier than he would have earlier in the year, because his left ankle has recovered and he’s begun his path to the NHL.
He signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks after his college season ended in March, and is participating in the Blackhawks prospect camp in Chicago this week.
He wouldn’t disclose the other teams that were interested in him, but they likely presented a quicker road to the NHL than the Blackhawks, who are deep at defenseman throughout the organization. Yet, he was sold on what the Blackhawks offered him.
“I kind of looked at it [as] you might not see it as [that] quick of a track, but it’s a great organization,” van Riemsdyk said. “The style they play as far as puck possession is something I like and fits my game real well. That kind of went into it majorly and how I came to my decision.
“I’m sure you would like to be [in the NHL] right away, but you want to make sure you’re ready when you get there. If you’re there before you’re ready, you don’t want to mess it up or leave a bad taste in people’s mouths saying maybe he won’t ever be ready or stuff like that. You want to be ready before you get there, and I think this organization does a good job of getting you where you need to be.”
Van Riemsdyk turned to his older brother for advice, but he felt he was given room to make his own decision. That’s one of the reasons why van Riemsdyk respects his older brother and never saw it as a burden to be the younger brother of an NHL player.
“You get that a lot just growing up, whether it’s on the ice or people asking you off it about whether you’re in the shadow or whatever,” said van Riemsdyk, who will turn 23 on July 24. “However you want to look at it, he’s a good guy to be in his shadow or not.
“He’s always done things the right way. He’s never got into any trouble. He’s worked hard. He’s had a good career. If I’m going to be in somebody’s shadow, I guess his isn’t a bad one.”
At the same time, van Riemsdyk would like to create his own career.
“I’ve always worked to make my own path at UNH and have my own accomplishments and not just being James’ brother,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s led a good way, and I’ve kind of followed it and added my achievements along the way.”
Van Riemsdyk, who is 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is known for his offensive ability as a defenseman. He had 75 points, including 16 goals and 59 assists, in 102 games at New Hampshire. He was a first-team All-American after his sophomore year.
ESPN NHL Draft and Prospects analyst Corey Pronman described van Riemsdyk as a “good puck mover who excels on the power play, but his skating and defense are just ok.”
Van Riemsdyk hoped to impress the Blackhawks’ personnel and gain some knowledge throughout the weeklong prospect camp. He described it as an opportunity to be a “sponge.”
The week also presents him a chance to really test his ankle against other top players.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in an ultracompetitive situation like this, pretty much since January when I hurt it,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s a good kind of shock to the system to get back in there.”