James van Riemsdyk (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
The big winger talks about how much of a video game team the Maple Leafs are and even though last season ended in turmoil, he's happy to come back after the summer break, gunning for the playoffs.
One of the perks of being a professional hockey player is living out your childhood dreams. For Toronto's James van Riemsdyk, he's getting to play out a scenario he didn't even think was possible when he was a little kid; seeing himself in EA Sports' line of NHL video games.
“I’ve played since NHL 95 or 96 all the way through," van Riemsdyk said. "It’s pretty cool to see how far it’s come and now to be a part of it…you don’t really think about being in this position when you’re 10 years old, playing with your brothers.”
But there he was, signing copies of the game at a Toronto Tim Horton's, with a poster of himself as part of the promotion of the 2015 edition, which just came out.
In my experience, hockey players only play two different kinds of video games: sports titles and shooter titles (usually Call of Duty). Apparently, I'm not wrong.
“That sounds pretty much like our team," van Riemsdyk said. "I like the sports games. FIFA, Madden, NCAA Football – I used to love the MVP Baseball one, but they don’t make that anymore.”
Being a young team, the Leafs play a lot of video games when they have down time. 'JVR' was diplomatic when asked who the worst gamer was – he maintains that if someone struggles with one title, they'll make up for it in another – but the undisputed reigning champ is center Tyler Bozak.
“He’s good at all the games," he said. "We played Madden quite a bit against each other, although the last game I skunked him pretty good.”
Naturally, that's not what is on the minds of most Leafs fans; they're concerned about how this team ended the 2013-14 campaign and what can be done to improve things for the upcoming season. For van Riemsdyk, he's more than happy to get back to business. Over the summer, he cleared his head and took time for one of his favorite events, the U.S. Open tennis tournament – his fifth trip to the classic showdown. But with summer training finished and the real thing about to get underway, it's all about remembering the pain in order to prevent a collapse from happening again.
“It stings," he said. "You get that pit in your stomach and it doesn’t sit well with me how we finished. I’m sure a lot of the guys feel the same way. You want to learn from it and use it as fuel for your training. Hopefully we hit the ground running.”
With a bolstered bottom-six and a refurbished blueline, there is certainly hope for a playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. But there are no cheat codes in the real game, so JVR and crew will have to be on point every night.