Brendan van Riemsdyk Working Toward Completing Next Hockey Family Dynasty
In his second season in professional hockey, Wichita Thunder forward Brendan van Riemsdyk has had his ups and downs. However, he is driven to push himself to reach the highest levels in hockey, a place where two of his brothers already have reached. Now the forward is looking to make his own place there, creating hockey’s next great family dynasty.
A Family Ready to Join the Greats
There have been a number of families who have left their mark on the hockey world. Gordie Howe is considered one of the five greatest hockey players of all time, and his sons, Mark and Marty, also had long professional careers. Phil and Tony Esposito were legendary all-stars for the Blackhawks and Bruins. Bobby and Dennis Hull were fantastic NHL players in the 60s and 70s, and Bobby’s son Brett became an NHL superstar for nearly 2 decades.
No family has probably left their mark on the league more than the Sutters. Brothers Ron, Brent, Brian, Duane, Darrell, and Rich were all playing in the NHL at the same time, an unprecedented feat for any league. Now Lukas Sutter is attempting to become the next generation reaching the NHL ranks. The sport has truly had its stars who were made even greater because of the familial relationships.
Now there is another family looking to take their place among the greats of the game. Finishing his first season a professional hockey, Wichita Thunder forward Brendan van Riemsdyk is attempting to join brothers James (Philadelphia Flyers) and Trevor (Washington Capitals) to complete the next great NHL family Dynasty.
It Seemed Inevitable
If you asked most kids growing up in the Montréal area, they will likely tell you that they were born with a hockey stick in their hands. While mothers may dispute that story, it is not an exaggeration to say that hockey has become as much of a religion as it is a sport within the city. Young boys grow up wanting to play the sport, and father’s push their children to become the next Guy LaFleur or Ken Dryden.
This was no different for Brendan van Riemsdyk. His father was born in the Montréal area and, despite moving at a young age, hockey was still a passion for him. This is why it was not surprising that he pushed Brendan and his two brothers to take up the sport.
“It was almost expected when you were born in Montréal that you would play hockey. My dad played a little bit in high school and a little bit in club at college. He kind of passed it on to my older brothers. I didn’t have much of a choice at that point,” he explains with a laugh.
While wanting his sons to play hockey, Fran van Riemsdyk and his wife Allison encouraged their children to play other sports as well. They wanted to ensure that their passion for hockey did not become overwhelming and that they enjoyed the things they did.
“My parents really wanted us to play as many sports as we could. It didn’t matter whether it was at school or local town leagues. They wanted us playing multiple sports so we could learn about teamwork and have fun doing it.”
Hockey quickly became the passion for Brendan, who followed his brothers to the University of New Hampshire where he not only earned a degree in finance but became an integral part of the club for three years, producing 20 goals and 24 assists in his three years with the team.
After graduating, Brendan opted to continue his education, heading to Northeastern University where he played with the Huskies and also earned a graduate degree in sports management. Clearly, he had planned for his future when he was ready to take off the skates, but this was not the ultimate goal for Brendan.
“I am very proud of how my brothers are doing. It is great to be able to see them on NHL TV, but they push me. They want to see me up here as well. I am happy for them and proud of what they have accomplished, and they inspire me to set those same goals.”
Go Pro Young Man
After completing his degree at Northeastern University, Brendan van Riemsdyk found himself looking to continue his hockey career. With Covid-19 limiting his options, the forward chose to play for the Knoxville Ice Bears (SPHL) in his first professional season. He scored five goals and added six assists in 16 games, establishing himself as a real force along the boards and in the corners.
It became a trademark for the young man, who not only wanted to do the blue-collar work to help his team win, but to thrive at it.
“It’s such an important part of the game, being able to battle along the boards and, and not just battle along the boards but to be able to come away with the puck. You have to win those battles and be ready to make a play. That is something I’m working to get better at. It’s a huge advantage when you’re able to pull pucks off the wall and then make a play versus just passing the problem off onto somebody else. It’s definitely a great skill to have in hockey and I’m trying to get better at it.”
After demonstrating that he had the skills and talent, Brendan was signed by the Reading Royals (ECHL), but would only appear in one game before being released. Looking for a job, it took just one phone call to convince him that Wichita was the place to continue his career.
“I started the year in Reading and that wasn’t a good fit. After I was done there, a friend of mine that I skated with in Massachusetts is friends with (Assistant Head Coach) Johnny Gurskis. He reached out and that is how it worked out.
I honestly didn’t know too much about the team or the town or anything like that until I got here. But after talking on the phone with Rammer (Head Coach Bruce Ramsey) and Johnny it was pretty clear that they are knowledgeable hockey guys, but they are really good guys away from the rink. That always makes things easier where you have a good human to just talk to. It’s not like you’re walking on egg shells so it was a great thing to see.”
Proving to Earn His Worth
The pursuit of an NHL career has been much different for Brendan van Riemsdyk that it has been for brothers James and Trevor. James took just one seven-game stint in the AHL before joining the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2009-10 season. Trevor played eight games in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs before joining the Chicago Blackhawks.
For Brendan, it has been an up-and-down season. He spent his first two months with the team primarily playing as the 10th forward before getting hurt. It took the forward over a month before returning to the lineup, but the results were instantaneous. He had spent that time off the ice studying and learning, waiting for the coaching staff to insert him back into the lineup.
“The coaches give you confidence. Your teammates give you confidence. From there you just don’t really think about it. You just kind of play. It’s nice when your coaching staff is well prepared and they prepare you so you’re not really thinking too much and you’re just going out there and playing hockey. It definitely is a reflection of the coaching staff and the rest of the team that they give you confidence that when you step on the ice, you can help your team win. I took that time to learn and prepare so I could take the confidence they had in me and help my team.”
In his first five games back, the Thunder forward had three points and quickly found himself on a regular shift. However, a prolonged slump saw him score just one goal over the next 10 games. That eventually led to his release.
This would have been a time that some players might have reconsidered their career path. A struggling team opting to go in a different direction, but Brendan stayed committed. Days later the Thunder re-signed the forward, and he produced two assists in his very first game back.
Ready to Complete the Dynasty
One of the interesting things about Trevor and James van Riemsdyk is that they play different types of games. Oldest brother James has 284 career goals in his 871 games with just 344 penalty minutes. Trevor has played in 448 NHL games, scoring 17 goals with 144 penalty minutes. Both have been integral parts of their team’s success, but the role they play with their team has been significantly different.
Brendan is different from his brothers as well. He is a physical type player, whose presence on the ice is recognized by opponents right away. However, to Brendan, it is not about drilling somebody in the corner or delivering a huge uppercut. It is about winning the battles to help your team win.
“You know that there’s different ways to be physical. It’s not always your standard big hits or fighting people. It’s being physical by having a good stick, by being heavy on the puck and protecting the puck and coming up with pucks on board battles. I probably fall more into that category then in big hits and fights and things like that.”
While playing a different style of hockey then that of his older brothers, he has learned some important lessons from them. It starts with understanding what hockey is about, both on and off the ice.
“The games are fun and being a part of wins is fun, but the best part is hanging around after practice or on the way home after a long trip. Being around with the guys, playing cards and getting the get to know each other. That’s probably about the best part. You hear about when guys retire who don’t necessarily miss the game that much but miss hanging around 20 friends every day. That is what hockey is all about. It is something my brothers and I embrace, something my dad wanted us to embrace.”
While not rising to the NHL level as quickly as his brothers, one thing is for sure. Brendan van Riemsdyk is the kind of gritty, physical player who can turn a game around. It is not by throwing his body around, but about being passionate about his craft. No doubt with the passion that Brendan has for the sport and for his family that he will one day be roaming the same ice rinks his brothers now rove.
All Images Courtesy of Super Ed Bailey and Wichita Thunder
By Robert Pannier