UNH’s van Riemsdyk takes it to another level

Last modified: 3/31/2013 12:09:17 AM
Talk to Trevor van Riemsdyk when he comes off the ice, and you’re often greeted with a grin. The sophomore defenseman isn’t one for an angry scowl or icy stare after a game – or any time for that matter, if you ask senior blue-liner Connor Hardowa.

“He’s definitely a laid-back, carefree kind of guy, when you see him,” the University of New Hampshire captain said.

Hardowa was quick to elaborate, however. The serious side to van Riemsdyk is there. It’s how he’s become one of the team’s hardest workers, how he’s risen to becoming one of Hockey East’s best defensemen and how he’s developed a skill set few – if any – at his position can match.

“When he’s on the ice, he’s all about the game,” Hardowa said. “I think he’s probably the first one here and the last one out. There’s nothing in his life, really, but hockey, and he

takes it very seriously.”

The No. 10 Wildcats are in the NCAA tournament, chasing a first national title, and it’s due in no small part to van Riemsdyk’s incomparable set of talents. He’s second on the team, and first among Hockey East defensemen, with 31 points, and his puck-handling, passing and shooting skills have helped steer the UNH power play from a midseason slump into being the second most efficient unit in the conference.

The accomplishments netted him Hockey East First Team all-star recognition, demonstrating the progress he’s made from being a talented freshman to a refined sophomore.

“Last year, (I came) in and just wanted to make it into the lineup,” he said. “You want to be the guy that doesn’t mess it up for the team, maybe by the end of the year you’re thinking, ‘Maybe I can be a difference maker.’ This year (I came) in, after a summer of hard work, and thought maybe I could be that difference maker all year. … The coaches definitely gave me that confidence and I just try to run with it.”

Confidence was a must for van Riemsdyk the moment he set foot in Durham. He was, after all, following in the footsteps of older brother James, who was the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft and played two years with the Wildcats before joining the Philadelphia Flyers. The name on the back of Trevor’s jersey meant he had to perform, but he didn’t need outside expectations for motivation.

“Sometimes there was a little more pressure, people see your last name and they expect you to do (the same),” he said. “I think I put more pressure on myself than anyone. I expect a lot from myself. … I think I have pretty high standards for myself.”

Van Riemsdyk had the weapons to match both the internal and external demands. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he’s got good size and plays well in the defensive zone, but it’s his offensive game that sets him apart. His ability to pass and handle the puck and dart through defenses makes him seem like a fourth forward on the ice, and he’s a willing shooter with an accurate shot that defenses can’t forget about when he’s hovering at the point.

It’s a unique skill set, but for van Riemsdyk, it’s the way he’s always played, going back to his childhood in Middletown, N.J.

“We always worked on our skills together, me, James and my dad, just throwing saucer passes in the driveway and shooting on the net,” he said. “We always stressed the skill part of the game, and the best way to do that from defense is to get involved in the rush. Growing up, that’s the way I liked to play.”

That aggressive style quickly convinced UNH Coach Dick Umile that he had a special player on his hands, and he said that van Riemsdyk has blossomed into one of the team’s greatest assets.

“He’s just taken it to another level,” Umile said. “He’s playing like a senior back there. Offensively, he’s brought a lot to the team. He can handle the rush, add to the rush. He’s got great composure with the puck, and he’s a quarterback on our power play.

“It’s what they can do in traffic, under the gun, and he handles it well, whether it’s pressure, (or) there’s no space in the corner and he comes out with the puck. That’s what separates him from other players.”

Adventure’s never far away when van Riemsdyk gathers the puck. In the team’s second game against St. Cloud State, he took possession at his own goal line, wove through the defense and got a shot off from up close. He did it again almost two months later against Boston University. A month after that, he led a 2-on-1 with Hardowa – his partner on defense – in a win over RPI.

Teams are taking notice. Van Riemsdyk has seven goals, but only two since Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Eric Knodel, who he’s often paired with during even-strength and power-play situations, has scored seven of his 10 since then.

It’s not a coincidence.

“Most of the time, my shots are wide open because everyone’s worrying about him,” Knodel said. “When we’re out there together, everything just flows. … He’s pretty easy to play with. He’s always in great position, making tremendous plays that help everyone else out.”

Van Riemsdyk’s style is one that requires confidence, and a sort of swagger that isn’t limited to the ice. In the week leading up to UNH’s Hockey East quarterfinal series with Providence, Umile and some of his players lamented a disappointing conclusion to the regular season, and emphasized a need to turn the page on a new season.

Van Riemsdyk, however, took charge.

“I know people are probably doubting us now,” he said. “And we’ll just prove them wrong.”

The smile was there, and so was the seriousness. The Wildcats still have a chance to prove the doubters wrong, and van Riemsdyk still likes their chances to do it.

“I don’t think we need to make any changes or hit the panic button,” he said. “Maybe work a little harder, work hard this week and I think things will work out for us.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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