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Catching up with James van Riemsdyk ahead of his return to Philadelphia

(China Wong/NHLI via Getty Images)

The “New Era of Orange” instituted by the Philadelphia Flyers this summer saw a number of veteran players leave the organization as they tried to usher in their rebuild. One of the casualties from that was veteran forward James van Riemsdyk, who was not re-signed by the Flyers and inked a one-year, $1 million contract with the Boston Bruins in free agency.

After some up and down years with the Flyers, van Riemsdyk has rebounded nicely in Boston, recording 7 goals and 22 assists for 29 points in just 44 contests this season, already matching his point total from last season. He is on pace to record 51 points this year, which would be his highest total since he racked up 54 in 2017-18 when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I had the opportunity to speak with van Riemsdyk on Friday ahead of his return to Philadelphia for the Bruins’ matchup against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon about his time so far in Boston, his tenure in Philadelphia, and everything in between.

“How has playing and living in Boston been like so far?”

JVR: “It’s been nice. It’s been exciting and obviously lots of years I’ve been playing against the Bruins, it seems like year-in-year-out they were a team that was always a contender and [had] a chance to win, so going to free agency that was obviously a huge priority. Just trying to find not only a good fit for what you bring to the table as a player, but also a team that you think has a shot to be a contender. When that opportunity came up it felt too good to pass up, and that’s been exciting as far as the hockey piece, to be a part of all that.

“The city of Boston’s been great. We’ve been living down there in Seaport and really enjoying that, so family-wise that’s been good too. Obviously with changing cities and teams there’s that adjustment period where you’re kind of used to your routines that you get into, especially for the family, so that can always be a bit of a period that you have to help everyone get comfortable and stuff like that, but so far so good.”

“You’ve played for an ‘Original Six’ team before when you were in Toronto, and you were a part of their 100th anniversary season as well. How much does it mean to you to play for teams like that and how special is it to be a part of those seasons that are celebrating so much history?”

JVR: “That’s been really cool. I think just growing up, my dad would always harp on us on the history of the game, and you’d kind of sometimes roll your eyes at him when you were younger, but I think now really looking back at it, it’s pretty cool that I’ve been able to play for two ‘Original Six’ franchises that are in their 100th season like this. You see how they honor all the moments of the team over the years and meet some of the legends that have played there and things like that. It’s been cool to kind of get an extra peek behind the curtains of all the history of the organization and things like that, so that’s been awesome.”

“Playing in Boston, you’re playing for a great coach like Jim Montgomery. What’s it been like playing for a real players’ coach, a perennial Jack Adams favorite, and a former Flyer like you?”

JVR: “That’s been cool. It’s funny how the longer you play, you kind of realize all these different connections that you have with guys over the years. Just going into free agency and talking with some of my former guys I played with, Tyler Bozak and Paul Stastny both know him well and had glowing things to say about him, not only as the hockey mind but as a person as well. That’s been fun and obviously like you mentioned, him having some Flyer connections too.

“I know he was talking about going to the reunion for his Phantoms Calder Cup team in the summer. There’s some of the same guys, obviously me and Brian Boucher got to play together and he’s been not only a great teammate when we played together, but a great friend over the years too. It’s funny how, again, there’s only so many degrees of separation when you’ve been playing for a while and it’s cool to make some of those connections as well.”

“While we’re talking about players’ coaches, you played for John Tortorella a couple times. He was your head coach at the World Cup in 2016 and you were there for his first year in Philadelphia. I don’t know how much you’ve paid attention to the Flyers this year, but even when you were there, is there anything that stood out to you about how he conducts himself or how he coaches, and are you surprised to see the Flyers turn around under him as much as they have this year?”

JVR: “Getting a chance to play for him at the World Cup, I had a little taste of his style before getting to play for him last year. I have nothing but good things to say about my experience as far as how he treated me and things like that. I think ultimately, the more experience, the more you play, you want someone who’s going to be honest and speak candidly and sometimes it can be blunt, sometimes it’s not always nice to hear, but it’s always better to hear how you stand, and that’s something he tries to pride himself on in doing that over the years, whether it’s good, bad or ugly, he’s going to tell you, and you move on and go from there. I enjoyed that style and working with him.

“Like you said, the Flyers have been playing great this year. I think obviously getting a couple key guys back from injury that have been out for a while, that’s a huge addition. I mean, someone like Sean Couturier, who’s been one of the top centers in the league for a while now, you plug him back into the lineup as well, and it looks like a lot of the younger guys – obviously I haven’t watched a ton of games – but following from afar, it seems like lot of younger guys have taken some steps forward. Obviously you have some key veteran guys coming back from injury, and then a guy like Scotty Laughton leading the charge there, so it definitely seems like things have been going well this year and obviously [I’m] following a little bit from afar.”

“That second time around in Philly, there were a lot of ups and downs. You guys were alternating between making and missing the playoffs, you went through a few coaching changes, but were there any positive moments you could take out of those five years in Philly?”

JVR: “On the ice, you wish that things could’ve gone better. There were lots of ups and downs, but I think it just helps you as far as your gratitude and appreciation for things over the years. Again, it’s never going to be just all good and happy times anywhere you’re at, so you learn how to deal with some different adversity.

“Playing there, it’s funny, like my two stints there, coming into the league and trying to figure it out and being really young, and then coming back the second time, coming back that time and then starting a family and things like that, you’re kind of in two different life stages, so Philadelphia will always be near and dear to me for those sorts of reasons as well for my personal life. We loved living in the area and always got treated well by the fans.

“Seeing guys like Keith Jones and Danny Brière come in and take over, and Dan Hilferty, I think they’re doing a great job as far as what they’re trying to instill back into the organization. Especially with someone like Jonesy, who’s been around the organization for so long and is so connected in the game, I think he’ll do a great job as far as getting things on the right track and obviously again, it looks like this year things have been going great there, so it’s no surprise when you have people like that calling the shots that things are going to start turning around.”

“I know at the end of last year you expressed a little disappointment in not being traded to a playoff contender at the trade deadline. There was the report that Detroit was close on a deal near the end of the deadline but it fell through. Do you know what happened there or were there any conversations between you and your agent with the Flyers as to where you could’ve ended up?”

JVR: “No, not a ton of conversations with all that. I’m in the same boat, a lot of speculation so I’m not really too sure what all went down. That being said, going through that, it’s in the past now but there was some parts of that whole situation that I didn’t feel like were handled very well, but I’m moving on now and excited for the present and the new challenges of this season.”

“I don’t know if you know, but was Boston one of those teams that was floated around as interested last year too?”

JVR: “I’m not too sure. Maybe a little bit, you hear bits and pieces from behind the scenes, but again, I guess that’s all speculation. I’m sure teams are doing a lot of diligence and tire-kicking on a lot of different situations, and with how the salary cap [is] and things like that, there’s lots of puzzle pieces to fit together, so you’re never quite sure how things can fit together, especially when we’ve been in this flat cap sort of environment the last two years.”

“During your time here, not just in Philly, but in Toronto and I’m sure in Boston, you’ve always come across as a very charitable and overall nice person. You’ve done a lot of work with the LGBTQ+ and autistic communities and were one of many Flyers that helped with Snider Hockey too. What does it mean to you to be a part of those initiatives and why is it important to you to be involved in the communities of the cities you play in?

JVR: “I think just learning from being younger, and one of the things that really hit home for me was you always want to be involved in the communities that you play in because I think people will remember when you’re done playing, they’re not going to remember as much of the on-ice stuff, maybe a few key moments here and there, but they’ll remember if you were a good person and how you treated them, so I’ve always tried to live my life that way. Treat people the right way, treat people how I’d like to be treated.

“You want to feel that sense of connection with the communities that you play in because I think the fans and the cities you play in invest so much in the team and care so much and are so passionate about it. I’ve been lucky to play in three very passionate markets and that makes it so much fun. It’s that buzz that you get coming to the rink everyday and just know that you’re playing for something that’s bigger than yourself.

“Even just the guys on the team, and all these cities, the huge fanbases, it means a lot that people are supporting me through the thick and thin, so establishing that relationship with people in the city is important and it shows them that you care about not only the team doing well, but people within the communities doing well and supporting them too so I think that’s why it’s so important.”

“I know that fans had a mixed opinion on you when you were here for that second time with the Flyers. How do you think you’ll be welcomed in your first game back on Saturday?”

JVR: “Yeah, I guess we’ll see. I don’t know. I think, again, my approach to the game has remained the same, as far as trying to maximize every bit of my talent and abilities on the ice and continue trying to be a sponge and learn and approaching it that way and never being complacent. I’d like to think that people recognize that and that can be appreciated but I guess we’ll see what happens and go from there, but my approach was always the same no matter if it was my first year or fifteenth year.

”Obviously you learn a ton along the way that can help you continue to adapt and be better, but I’ve always taken that approach and never really taken for granted my time in the league, and trying to win. Each and every year it’s the same, you want to try and be on a team that can be in a position to win. You’ve got to do your part in that as far as preparing yourself to do that, so I’ve always put the time in for that and really made that a key priority, and again I think that’s the only way you can have longevity in your career to play a long time is if you do that.

“This year it’s been nice to get some bounces production-wise and feel like you’re having a little bit more of a bounce-back season in that sense, but I guess that’s all part of going though the ebbs and flows and ups and downs in a career. Some years will go for you better than others, and you’ve just got to stick with it and keep at it and take it one day at a time.”

“Was there any talk with Danny Brière or the Flyers about potentially sticking around?”

JVR: “No, not much talk about that. The team was going in a different direction, and I think as a player you’re just taking all your options in when you get to free agency, so no real talks as far as that.”

“Between your first and second stints with the Flyers, was there anything new you learned or anything different that stood out to you when you came back for your second time versus when you first came into the league with them?”

JVR: “Those first few years there was a lot of different guys on the team, but some mainstays there that were still around. I think ultimately, being there you feel the passion that the fans have for all the sports teams and obviously the Flyers are a huge part of that in the city, and that’s a fun thing to be a part of.

”Like you said, unfortunately I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t have more success on the ice, and there was a definitely a bit of turmoil behind the scenes it seemed like too, but that’s all part of going through different experiences in your life, and just trying to use these things as learning experiences as you go on.”

“What was your favorite moment as a Flyer, either in your first or second stint with the team?”

JVR: “I would say that Cup run my first year of my first stint was pretty amazing. My second one would be, I think it was against Boston – actually it was against Boston in my second year – and hearing the whole crowd chanting my name in one of the playoff games, I can’t remember which game specifically it was, but that was one of the cooler moments of my career too. I’d say the playoff run and that moment was pretty special.”

“Your 1,000th game is going to be coming up soon. You’ve been a part of a few celebrations. As a Flyer you were a part of G’s and you were a big part of that game since you scored in it. Have you thought much about that moment and what it will be like, and how much does it mean as a player to hit that mark?”

JVR: “It’s kind of the fine line of trying to stay in the moment and worry about the day-by-day, but yeah, it is a pretty cool milestone in our game where you get recognized and there’s things like that that are cool. Obviously it’s a long way to get there and it’s a pretty cool milestone to hit. Especially over the last year or so, I’ve hit a couple of pretty cool milestones and it’s kind of crazy to think that here I am fifteen years into my career and almost 1,000 games in and just thinking about that from where you started from is pretty cool.

“I think in any situation like this, especially these longevity ones, you really kind of think to your support system and all the people that supported you along the way, whether that’s your parents, your wife, your kids, your brothers. It’s a lot of people that have helped along the way with stuff like that and I think it helps you keep all that in perspective and how lucky I am to have the support of all those closest to me.”

I also asked van Riemsdyk one last question. For those who don’t know, I penned an article about him in the summer after he signed in Boston, and he ended up reading it and reached out to me and even sent me a personally inscribed Flyers jersey afterwards as well in response to it. The article was essentially an open thank you note to JVR for not only his on-ice play, but for his work off the ice as well. As someone with autism, van Riemsdyk’s work with the autistic community and the support he has shown has meant the world to me, and for him to reach out personally touched me even more.

“That article I wrote in the summer, obviously you reached out to Flyers Nation and then to me after I wrote it, and then you sent me that jersey which was so special. How did you come across it? And I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but why did you react the way that you did and send me a jersey?”

JVR: “Yeah, I think my wife saw it and then she showed it to me. It was obviously towards the end of my stint here and I was feeling reflective about my time in Philly, and certainly I definitely wanted it to go better on the ice and wanted the team to be more successful, and I wanted to be more productive myself. It was just nice to read something like that to see the appreciation that you showed for me in that, and there’s all these other things that go on and you’re never quite sure what kind of reception or reaction you might get about how you were, and just to read something like that was very touching.

“Like I mentioned before, you want to do certain things. Obviously you want to have success on the ice, but I think being a good person and trying to be part of the community and trying to make it your home as far as these different places that you play in, I think I definitely try to make an effort to do that, so it’s not like I’m just stopping and visiting at somebody’s place. You want it to feel like home and you want to be involved, so to just be acknowledged a little bit was definitely a nice feeling and definitely very touching in that sense.

“I think when I saw it, it was from that reflective sort of state and I really appreciated that, and you’re always appreciative of people that support you over the years. Sometimes it’s through thick and thin when there was some bumps along the way, especially in the second tenure, so again I think reading that just made me really appreciative of the support that I had gotten from the fans in Philly and being the face of your writing, that was pretty cool, so I definitely appreciated that.”

van Riemsdyk is as classy as they come, and any person who has been around him would tell you no different. He has always been a great teammate, a great player, and a great person.

On the ice, James van Riemsdyk played with nothing but pure, unbridled heart for the Flyers. Off the ice, he made the city of Philadelphia a great place to live. If there’s any former Flyer that deserves a standing ovation at a homecoming this season, it’s #21 in black and gold.

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Managing Editor at Flyers Nation. Proud lifelong supporter of the Philadelphia Flyers and all things hockey related. Steve Mason's #1 fan.

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