BRICK – As a kid playing at Ocean Ice Palace, former Christian Brothers Academy forward James van Riemsdyk always looked up to Jim Dowd.
Since van Riemsdyk started playing hockey, the number 9 jersey of Dowd, a former New Jersey Devils forward, has hung in the rafters at the rink where van Riemsdyk played club hockey.
On Tuesday night, van Riemsdyk – now a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs – joined his childhood idol as his number 21 was retired alongside Dowd.
“I’m not an emotional guy, but being back here and seeing everyone that showed up and seeing all the work that (former coach) Alex (DePalma) and everyone at the club has put into this, it’s really humbling and a huge honor,” van Riemsdyk said. “I have some great memories of playing here over the years. This was my home rink growing up; it’s a pretty exciting and humbling feeling.”
Van Riemsdyk participated in the Brick Hockey Club clinic on Tuesday night before his number was retired in a ceremony prior to Brick’s alumni game.
Van Riemsdyk played for two seasons at Christian Brothers Academy before joining the United States national team development program as a junior in high school. In 2007, the Philadelphia Flyers took the ex-Colt second overall in the National Hockey League entry draft.
“I think it’s great,” said Dowd. “He grew up playing at Brick hockey club and he went to CBA for two years. It’s great for the area and it’s great for the kids. I’m 44 years old now, so a lot of the younger kids are looking at him now.”
Although van Riemsdyk didn’t meet Dowd until he was in high school, the former NHL player said he could tell that van Riemsdyk was going to be a special player with plenty of promise.
“For the Monmouth versus Ocean game, he played in it his freshman year and won MVP,” Dowd said. “You knew when he was a freshman that he was one of the best players in the state. When you’re little, you don’t really notice it, but when you get to high school, that’s when you start to see it.
“I saw him play in a few high school games and he could do whatever he wanted. You saw when he was a freshman and sophomore, how he was dominating. He was by far the best player.”
After being drafted by Philadelphia, van Riemsdyk played for the Flyers for three seasons. Last summer, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This year, he posted 14 goals and 18 assists to help Toronto reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
But for van Riemsdyk, the idea of being the player that younger generations now look up to still hasn’t quite hit him yet.
“It’s pretty surreal. I don’t really feel that old but I’m already 24 and I feel like I was just here yesterday,” he said. “I think hockey in Jersey particularly has come a long way over the last 10 years or so and I think you see a lot more guys around here getting into the game. I think a lot of that is devoted to Jimmy, so maybe in the next generation I can have the same impact on those players.”
Van Riemsdyk is preparing to play in his second season for Toronto this winter, and said he is hopeful to land on the United States Olympic team, too.
“It’s obviously an exciting time,” van Riemsdyk said. “There are the Olympics this year, too, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t one of my goals.
“We have a lot to look forward to this year. We obviously made some strides as a team. We made the playoffs. We have the Winter Classic (this year), so there’s going to be a lot to look forward to.”