James is in his third season with the Maple Leafs and fifth overall. Younger brother Trevor just unexpectedly made the Chicago Blackhawks out of training camp.
"Of course over the years we've seen them play against each other lots in the driveway and beating the heck out of each other," Frans van Riemsdyk said. "It'll take on a different flavour when it's under these lights."
It could happen in less than a month when the Blackhawks visit the Leafs for "Hockey Night In Canada" on Nov. 1. But first, Trevor van Riemsdyk makes his debut Thursday night at the Dallas Stars.
The assumption was that van Riemsdyk, a 23-year-old defenceman out of the University of New Hampshire, would need more time to adapt to the pro game, beginning in the minors. Instead, he showed the kind of quick thinking and sharp hockey acumen that earned him a job when the Blackhawks traded Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders.
"To have this experience that I've had all of training camp and now to have a chance to play an NHL game this soon after signing my first contract, it's a pretty crazy feeling," van Riemsdyk said by phone from Chicago. "It's all happened pretty quickly. I'm excited for it. Hopefully I can play well and stick around."
Eight months ago, van Riemsdyk didn't know what the future held after he broke his left ankle.
"You're laying on the trainers table, your ankle throbbing, and you don't really know what's going on," he said. "You don't know if it's just your ankle, if anything's wrong with your knee or you're thinking the worst. Stuff like that flashes through your mind where you're like: 'Am I even going to be the same player?'"
A clean break was the best-case scenario, and it allowed Trevor to heal up, train with James over the summer and take part in Chicago's development and rookie camps before the real thing. His parents were among the many surprised he managed to make the NHL this quickly after three years following in his brother's footsteps at New Hampshire.
"If he didn't get hurt, I think it would've maybe been a different set of expectations on him," James said. "People maybe kind of wrote him off and he just kept working at it and he's very committed. I'm pretty proud of him to get to this point."
Trevor making the team so soon forced Frans and Allison van Riemsdyk to adjust their travel plans early in this season. After watching James play at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, they'll see 18-year-old son Brendan in a game back home in New Jersey on Friday night.
Unable to make it to Dallas for the Blackhawks' first game and planning to watch on TV, Frans and Allison will be in Chicago on Saturday night, assuming Trevor's in the lineup, before seeing James and the Leafs again Sunday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"It's going to be a little hectic," Frans said during the first intermission Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre. "What we've learned over the years is you have to sort of be very flexible, fly by the seat of your pants a little bit and do the best you can to get to as many as you can."
Frans van Riemsdyk missed James's NHL debut for the Philadelphia Flyers at the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2009, but he and Allison have seen their three sons play plenty over the years. They estimated going to see each son play at least 30 games a season, and that adds up over time.
"We should really do the math on that," Allison said.
Frans would prefer not to do the math on how much their travels have cost.
"When you start to think about all the miles you log, all the flights, all the hotels, all the equipment, all the fees, you start to say, 'Wow,'" Frans said. "It's been awesome and we'd do it all over again. ... It's just so much fun that you throw the expense and the cost considerations to the side."
Costs aren't the only things Frans and Allison van Riemsdyk have thrown to the side in wanting to see their sons play hockey. They rarely let brutal weather conditions stop them.
"All the weather warnings are 'Stay off the roads,' there's snow, there's ice, there's this, there's that," Frans said. "You're just absolutely determined to get there, and sometimes you don't and you find yourself sleeping in a rest area waiting for the storm to pass."
And other times they find themselves jetting from city to city with plans to go right from the airport to the rink. After a weekend like they're hoping to have coming up, the plan is simple.
"Just exhale," Frans said.
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