ARLINGTON, V.A. — For Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, hockey has always been a family affair.
It’s easy to see he’s a family-oriented person. He automatically smiles when asked about his kin, and his eyes light up when speaking about his tight-knit family with a well-known surname that spreads across the hockey world.
Growing up in Middletown, New Jersey, van Riemsdyk grew up on the game. His father, Frans, was born in Montreal and shared the love of the game with his sons. Van Riemsdyk has two brothers: an older brother, James, who plays for Philadelphia, and his younger brother, Brendan, who plays in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder.
They would all gather around the television in the living room and tune into New York Rangers games. Eventually, James made his way to the rink, and when van Riemsdyk saw that, he automatically wanted to follow.
“When you’re little, I think you want to do everything your brother does,” he notes with a smile.
Van Riemsdyk hit the ice with his brother and followed in James’ footsteps growing up. He played high school hockey at Christian Brothers Academy just as James did, and he watched as his older brother hit the ice for the U.S. National Team Development Program and the University of New Hampshire.
While in high school, van Riemsdyk wasn’t sure what the future held for him. He was ready to go to Babson College in Massachusetts and play D3 while pursuing other studies. But fate and family would clear things up quickly.
“I didn’t really know where I was going to go. I was pretty close, just a couple days away from going [to] Babson,” van Riemsdyk recalled. “Then I played in this summer tournament where I met the coach of what ended up being the junior team I played for. He let me know he thought I had a chance to play division one. So we had a family discussion and decided it was worth giving it a shot. It all worked out from there.”
Van Riemsdyk joined the EJHL’s New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs before heading to James’ alma mater as James began his tenure in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. TVR, meanwhile, excelled with the Wildcats as a talented two-way defenseman who could move the puck well, put up scoring totals and block shots. He earned All-American honors, MVP consideration and was also recognized for his strong academic standing. He was inducted into Chi Sigma Alpha and made the Hockey East All-Academic Team.
After an impressive tenure and going undrafted, while also working through significant injuries, van Riemsdyk earned an NHL contract from the Chicago Blackhawks. The team won the Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign back in 2014-15. He laced ’em up for Chicago before joining the Carolina Hurricanes and ultimately landing in D.C. after signing a deal with the Capitals.
“It’s one of those things where some of the things feel like forever and then you step back and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m in my eighth year, that feels like it flew by.’ Some things feel like it’s been quick and then other things [feel] like forever ago. When you say it’s been eight years, that kind of feels like it’s flown by.”
Van Riemsdyk’s time in D.C. has been a whirlwind. The 30-year-old joined the team back in 2020-21, but with a stacked blue line during the global pandemic, he didn’t get to draw into the lineup much. He played just 20 games, picking up a goal and two assists. Still, he made his impact known when he did get a sweater, showcasing his physicality, blocking shots and taking good care of the puck while effectively moving it up ice. And in practices, he worked hard and kept his head up, while fine-tuning his overall game and waiting for his opportunity.
“It’s a great group of guys, and even last year when I wasn’t playing as much, I think it says a lot about the staff, everyone here, the guys in the locker room that made it still an experience I enjoyed and wanted to come back,” van Riemsdyk said.
Head coach Peter Laviolette has also served as a motivator for the 6-3, 191-pound blueliner. And coincidentally, Laviolette coached James while both were with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s funny how small of a world it can be sometimes,” van Riemsdyk laughed.
“It’s been great. He’s a great coach, he’s great with the X’s and O’s and he’s great at all the motivational stuff and he’ll let you know what he expects of you, and I think that’s all you can really ask for,” he added. “He’s done a great job with our group… he’s been awesome.”
Van Riemsdyk’s positive attitude, versatility and patience not only earned him a two-year extension but a spot on the team’s protected list for the Seattle expansion draft. There was then the expectation going into 2021-22 that he would play a bigger role, especially with Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon leaving D.C.
“He seems to play well with everyone,” Laviolette said earlier in the season. He called his play “excellent” and “rock solid” alongside Justin Schultz.
Going into the 2021-22 campaign, van Riemsdyk was given a tall task: to play on his offside with the team lacking depth on the left side. He took on the role with aplomb, able to log significant minutes on his offside. TVR credits his success and versatility to former teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“As the years [have] gone on, I felt more and more comfortable,” van Riemsdyk said, noting, “[Hjalmarsson’s] one of the best to probably ever play on his offside pretty much mainly and to make plays there. There’s stuff I enjoy more on the offside and stuff that may be a little different. I wouldn’t say necessarily harder, just different. You got to position yourself and it’s something as you get more reps it, it becomes more natural.”
TVR’s positivity on the ice is contagious. Rarely is he not wearing a smile, and that attitude carries off the ice as well. When he’s not playing, he’s working to grow the game and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. He’s been a “You Can Play” ambassador for his teams over the course of his career, again following James’ lead.
“It’s something I’m proud to be a part of. It’s something that I know a lot of guys take pride in, and I feel that it’s very important,” van Riemsdyk said. “I’m just one of them. Many guys here do a lot to help raise that awareness and do the right things.”
Despite being on a different team than his brothers, he keeps a tight-knit relationship with his family. They don’t discuss the standings or rivalries. He and James text quite a bit as they exchange messages in their family group text, and when the Capitals are close to Philly, TVR will stop in and visit James’ family.
In the end, family comes first for TVR. That alone has inspired a career that the 30-year-old is ready to continue expanding upon.
“I’m really happy I’m here,” van Riemsdyk said simply.