James van Riemsdyk was the second overall pick in 2007 by the Flyers. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
With Kevin Kennedy
I played my first hockey where I grew up in Wall, New Jersey. I started in a program called Initiation and they would split three hours of ice time between three age groups, but I started loving hockey so much that I’d stay out for all three hours. I grew up in a hockey family because my dad was actually born in Montreal so he already had hockey in his blood. We had this Wayne Gretzky DVD called Above and Beyond and it was always on when I was younger.
I had a lot of great coaches along the way and they all taught me different things. I had one coach from squirt all the way through midget and he was a real fiery guy and was all about hard work and battling. When I got to high school my coach was all about skills and finesse. After playing for both those guys I got a little mix of both.
My best memory from playing hockey as a kid was when I got to play at Madison Square Garden. I scored a goal and it was really cool because I was a Rangers fan growing up and to play there was incredible.
As a kid I’d spend most of my free time playing street hockey with my brother and some neighbours and if I was in net I’d be Mike Richter and if I was out I’d be either Brian Leetch or Adam Graves. I wore the No. 16 for most of my life for Brett Hull. He was a cool guy - he was outgoing and he had a sick shot. Eventually I played on a team where a guy already had No. 16 so I switched to 21 and did that for Peter Forsberg.
Street hockey is not a big part of my free time these days, but I still get together with my buddies in the summers. Not a lot has changed from back then, but during the season my free time is a lot different. You don’t really want to waste too much energy running around doing that extra stuff, but in the summers when I get home, I got the same group of buddies and we pretty much do the same type of stuff we did as kids. We play a little soccer, a little whiffle ball. A lot of my buddies are still in school and if I wasn’t in the NHL I’d probably be doing the same thing. Education was a top priority in my household and after hockey I’d love to still be involved in the business side of the game.
I remember my first NHL shift and I was so nervous that I could feel my heart pounding through my shoulder pads. I remember just cruising around. I got the puck and fired it on net so I got my first shot on goal, which really helped me get a lot of the nerves out. I was playing with Claude Giroux and Darroll Powe. Giroux and I are actually about the same age and I had met him a couple summers ago at a Flyers’ rookie camp. We also played against each other at the world juniors. I remember seeing him lift the gold, which was good for him, but it was a tough loss for me. But now it’s great we’re playing for the same team.