BOSTON – As the calendar hits the middle weeks of February, New Hampshire finds itself once again chasing a spot in the Hockey East playoff picture, but things this season are a bit out of the ordinary for junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
The middle of three brothers has been setting his alarm clock a bit early over the past week in order to watch his elder sibling, James, a star forward for the Wildcats from 2007-09, compete for the United States at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Trevor suffered a severe leg injury in UNH’s Jan. 18 game against Union and has not played since, but he said the distraction of watching his brother has been a welcome one.
“It’s pretty cool,” the Middletown, N.J., native said during the first intermission of UNH’s 3-1 win at Boston University on Monday. “Growing up, the Olympics is something you always watch, especially the hockey games in our household.”
“Just to see James now from where he’s come from as he’s progressed is awesome,” he added. “Coming in this year, knowing he had a chance to do it after the work he put in is pretty cool.”
James van Riemsdyk is the fifth men’s hockey Olympian in UNH history, joining Americans Steve Leach (Cambridge, Mass.), Jeff Lazaro (Waltham, Mass.), Bob Miller (Medford, Mass.) and Canadian Adrian Plavsic. Van Riemsdyk is looking to become the first to bring home a gold medal.
He’s also joined in Sochi by two former Wildcats on the women’s side. Defender Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.) is on the roster for the U.S. women’s team, set to compete for gold against archrival Canada on Thursday at noon. And as UNH men’s coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.) noted, Team USA women’s coach Katey Stone (Arlington, Mass.) is also a UNH alumna.
“It’s awesome,” Umile said. “It’s great (to watch James and the other Wildcats). Watching the college hockey players in the Olympics is terrific and it says an awful lot, especially for Eastern hockey.”
Of course, the early-morning games are tough for most anybody, but Trevor and a cast of four teammates he rooms with on the Durham, N.H., campus have been up at the crack of dawn to watch as the U.S. has taken wins in the first three games of competition.
“Waking up for these early-morning games is a lot easier knowing James is out there playing,” Trevor said. “I think I’m the most prepared (player on the team) with the alarm set in the morning. By 8:00 or 8:15, everyone is down there watching.”
Although James is Trevor’s immediate kinfolk, his appearance in the Sochi Games has an impact on the entire UNH program. James became close with several members of the current team while spending a good deal of time on campus during the lockout that hit the NHL at the start of last season.
“He’s my brother,” Trevor said. “But for a bunch of them, they’ve met him and know who he is. It’s pretty cool for everyone. … When he was here, he got to practice with us and got to know him a little bit.”
Trevor takes the relationship to heart and is very much invested in each game, and his nervousness has paid off as James is the team leader with four assists through three games.
One of the biggest moments of the Games for the U.S. came during Saturday’s shootout against Russia. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped James’ attempt, but T.J. Oshie’s heroics led the Americans to a 3-2 win to maintain their perfect marks.
“Watching (James), I still get pretty nervous,” Trevor said. “I’m probably more nervous than when I’m out there playing. Watching (the shootout against Russia on Saturday) was pretty nerve wracking, but he knows what he’s doing there. … Of course, Oshie put on a show in the end there. Just to be chosen to go is a pretty special deal with all the guys that are on the team.”
The youngest of the van Riemsdyk brothers, Brendan, is currently playing for the Jersey Hitmen’s U18 team, and is set to attend UNH in two years.
As for Trevor’s Olympic dreams, anything’s still possible.
“That’s probably a goal for everyone since they were little,” Trevor said. “It’s a pretty huge deal. Obviously, everyone would love to be there some day in their life. You see the YouTubes of everyone, most who probably haven’t watched a hockey game all year, up at 7:30 at the bar and watching with a hundred people going nuts.
“It’s a country thing for the Red, White and Blue and the pride that goes into it,” he said. “It’s really a pretty cool thing.”
Trevor won't need an extra cup of coffee for James' next game - Team USA takes on the winner of Czech Republic-Slovakia at noon on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. While he noted how intense the competition has been, his answer was clear when asked who will come out on top.
“I’d have to go with the Red, White and Blue of the USA there.”