James van Riemsdyk donned the spoked B for the first time at the Bruins’ first captain’s practice on Tuesday after the 34-year-old left wing spent much of his career as a Black and Gold rival.
It started off with a joyous bang for him, but he was more often on the wrong side of a couple different rivalries. Now he’s hoping get his own career back on track while at the same team trying to extend this vastly changed Bruin team’s stay among the league’s elite.
“I was certainly on the other side of some pretty intense rivalries for a lot of years,” said van Riemsdyk, “but it’s been good to get here to the area, get acclimated and get to know a some of these guys a lot better. I’ve heard a lot of great things about a lot of the guys.”
Drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, the former UNH star and New Jersey native had an eventful rookie season in Philly – at the Bruins’ expense. He was a member of that 2010 Flyers’ team that pulled off arguably the greatest comeback in NHL history, storming back from a 3-0 series deficit and then a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to shock the B’s.
But that ignominious defeat turned out to be the key that unlocked the door to the B’s first Stanley Cup in in 39 years. Fueled by that loss, the B’s mashed the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs in a four-game sweep en route to the Cup in 2011.
Before the shortened 2013 season he was traded to Toronto in a lopsided deal that sent Luke Schenn to Philly. While van Riemsdyk enjoyed some of his best years in Toronto (he had seasons of 30, 27, 29 and 36 goals between 2013 and ’18), they did not include any playoff success. He can thank the Bruins in large part for that.
Van Riemsdyk was a Maple Leaf for one of the B’s most memorable Game 7 comebacks when they frantically erased a 4-1 third period deficit before Patrice Bergeron struck the finishing blow in overtime in 2013. In 2018, the Leafs took the B’s to another Game 7, lost a one-goal third period lead and made another first-round exit.
As painful as some of the memories must have been, van Riemsdyk had come to admire what was built in Boston.
“Over the years it was kind of a measuring stick game,” said van Riemsdyk. “Even the years that I was at UNH, that was just kind of the start of that contending status. It seemed like every year that I’ve been in the league they were a team that had a chance to win. So going into free agency, that was exciting to get a call from these guys and exciting for a chance to be a part of that with all the great pieces that are here.”
Van Riemsdyk had been back in Philly for the last five years after signing a five-year, $35 million deal with his original NHL team. He had a 24-goal season as recently as two years ago but last season was a tough one for him. He and the Flyers got off to a decent start but he suffered a broken finger in late October, requiring surgery and limiting him to 61 games. He finished with just 12 goals.
“When you’re coming back from an extended period off, you’re playing a little bit of catch-up,” said van Riemsdyk, who’s looking forward to a fresh start. “And then, it was a team that was in a little bit of a transition as far as trying to get a look at a lot of younger players. There were definitely some challenges in that sense. Certainly I would have liked to have been more productive and done a better job with some things. I think it’s something that I can learn through those experiences, so you try to take that going into your summer. You get back to your foundation as a player and work on some things where you think you can add some different elements.”
With so many teams banging up against the salary cap, van Riemsdyk signed with the B’s for a one-year, $1 million contract in July. One of the things coach Jim Montgomery feels was a downfall for the B’s in their stunning playoff loss to Florida was a lack of bite in front of both nets. VanRiemsdyk should certainly help – at least at one end of the rink, especially on the power play. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound wing has made a living as an elite net-front presence.
“It’s the fine line of trying to fit in but also to stick with some of your strengths, which is playing in front of the net and playing below the goal line and things like that,” said van Riemsdyk. “Those are things I’m trying to bring to the team and try to find some chemistry with some of the guys here.”
While things can change quickly in training camp, Montgomery said recently that he expects to try van Riemsdyk with Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak.
“Obviously (Pastrnak’s) an incredible player and the year he had was pretty special with 60 goals,” he said. “There’s lots of excitement to get a chance to do that. There’s lots of great players in this room and I’m just excited about trying to find a place to fit in, do what I do and complement the group.”
But what the Jersey native at this stage of his career most wants to do is play deep into the spring, like he did in 2010, when the Flyers went to the Cup finals.
“This is going to be my 15th year and I had had a couple of earlier playoff runs that went further but not too many lately, so this is about trying to find a way to win games and find a way to chase down the ultimate prize,” said van Riemsdyk. “That’s what’s exciting about coming to a team like this with a lot of great players and all the success they had here last year in the regular season. Hopefully, that’s something we can build on this year.”
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