James van Riemsdyk can now understand why his mother finds watching him play in person so stressful.
Van Riemsdyk, a Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward, has been feeling similar angst while watching his younger brother, Chicago Blackhawks rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, play in the Stanley Cup finals. James was in attendance at the United Center for Games 3 and 4 between the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, and he actually found being a spectator more difficult than being a participant.
“With my brother in there, it’s weird,” James said by phone Friday. “I kind of feel where my mom comes from where as far as you’re on the edge of your seat. It’s definitely more nerve-wracking than playing. That’s for sure. Just kind of seeing him out there, wanting to do well, it’s definitely a totally different animal than playing in that way.”
James, Brendan -- the youngest van Riemsdyk brother -- and their parents, Frans and Allison, traveled to Chicago to see Trevor make his Stanley Cup finals' debut Monday. It was just like when James played in the Stanley Cup finals for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Blackhawks in 2010, and Trevor was in the stands.
“For me, the shoe is finally on the other foot,” said James, who is 26 and three years older than Trevor. “Growing up and even over the first few years of my NHL career playing in Philly, he’s been there supporting me game in, game out. Now, it’s kind of the other way around where I’m going to watch the games obviously and support him. That’s been exciting for me to watch him on this stage and just kind of the journey he’s been through how his year’s been kind of a roller coaster ride with some of the injuries and stuff. To see him a get a chance to play in a Stanley Cup final makes it even more special.”
Trevor’s season has been full of ups and downs. After playing last season at the University of New Hampshire, he was the surprise of the Blackhawks’ training camp and made their NHL roster. In his 18th NHL game on Nov. 16, he fractured his left patella blocking a shot against the Dallas Stars and required surgery. He returned to the ice in February, suffered a wrist injury in the AHL and again underwent surgery in April. He began practicing again in late May and his first game back was in Game 3 against the Lightning.
Trevor has looked up and leaned on James throughout his career and especially this season. They’ve been in touch constantly throughout the playoffs, and James has tried to pass on a few pieces of advice.
“[He said] just enjoy it and remember it’s a hockey game,” said Trevor, who has averaged 7:49 of ice time in the two games. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, maybe a little more hectic outside the rink before you go on the ice. But when you get on the ice, it’s another hockey game. He’s been through it, pretty similar to me here it being my first year, so he’s had a lot of good advice.”
James also went to the Stanley Cup finals in his rookie season. He hasn’t been back since. With that in mind, he told Trevor to enjoy the moment and not take it for granted.
“You never know when you’re going to get another chance to play in a situation like this,” James said. “For me, obviously my first year in the league I was able to play in the finals against the Blackhawks. At that point, maybe you don’t necessarily realize how hard it is to get to that point, how many things have to go right to get to play in a Stanley Cup final.
“The keys I told him were that, just make sure you’re ready to do whatever it takes to win and again it’s a bigger stage, but you still have to play your game and do what got you to this point. Again, he’s smart enough of a player and smart enough to know what he’s able to do there.”
James has become a Blackhawks’ fan with the Maple Leafs out of the mix, because of his brother and there’s also the Kimmo Timonen factor. James played with Timonen with the Flyers, and he’d love to see Timonen end his career by winning the Stanley Cup. Timonen, who was acquired by the Blackhawks at the trade deadline, plans to retire after the season.
“Kimmo taught me a lot in my first years in Philly,” James said. “I consider him a good friend. When I saw him get traded, I was really happy for him to get this chance to win a Stanley Cup. He’s done pretty much everything else you can possibly want to do in a career up to this point. He’s played in what five Olympics; he’s been an All-Star defenseman; he’s been an elite player. This is the one thing I’m sure he wants to cap off a tremendous career. To see him in this situation, too, happy for him. Again, it’s another reason to pull for those guys.”
There is one negative to being around the Blackhawks and at the United Center for James. He’s found himself having flashbacks to when the Blackhawks defeated him and the Flyers for the Stanley Cup in 2010, and there's one certain thing that trigger those memories.
“Every time I hear that stupid goal song, it definitely brings me right back to 2010 when the Blackhawks won because we heard that all too many times in a couple of those games with Philly,” said James, who plans to attend Game 6 in Chicago and was unsure yet about Game 5 in Tampa. “That still obviously gives you nightmares hearing that ‘Chelsea Dagger’ or whatever the song’s called after they score. We didn’t come up on the side we wanted to playing in the finals.”
But he’s even willing to sweep aside those feelings. It’s all about being there for his younger brother.
“Again, now it’s in a positive way for my brother, so I’m here to support him and happy to do that,” James said.
James and his mother just ask Trevor not to make it too stressful on them.