Trevor van Riemsdyk assumed the first time he really tested his left shoulder, it would be from a hit in a Carolina Hurricanes practice or a puck battle along the boards in a game.
“One of my first practices back I was going pretty fast, caught a rut and took a pretty good fall,” the defenseman said Sunday. “It was probably harder than any hit. Obviously you kind of worry about it and it’s not how I envisioned testing it. But everything was in one piece. It was nice to get that out of the way.”
Van Riemsdyk can smile about it now, and did Sunday. But the shoulder injury in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs resulted in a summer of physical rehab, kept him out of contact work in training camp, forced him to miss all of the Canes’ preseason exhibition games and then the first eight games of the regular season.
Van Riemsdyk rejoined the lineup Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, in the third game of a Western road trip. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour dressed seven defensemen, giving van Riemsdyk 11:28 of ice time in the 4-2 loss.
“I mean, that’s a tough one,” Brind’Amour said Sunday. “Basically it’s almost like his first preseason game and that’s unfortunate that you have to put him in a game that counts for real. In talking to him (Sunday) I think he feels much better knowing he got through the game. I think he’ll just keep getting better.”
Van Riemsdyk said the game went about as he expected considering the layoff. While he has been skating and pushing himself, jumping into a regular-season game on the fly can be like jumping on a speeding train.
“You can’t simulate the game until you’re out there but I felt I got better as the game went on,” van Riemsdyk said in an N&O interview. “It’s been a slow go of it but I’m finally back. Hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here. Obviously the game didn’t go as we’d have liked in that first one, but it is what it is and we just have to bounce back in the next one.”
Van Riemsdyk, 28, took a crunching hit from Cal Clutterbuck of the New York Islanders during the second round of the 2019 playoffs. He tried to brace for the blow by turning before the collision but had his left shoulder slammed into the glass.
There was little mental guesswork then, van Riemsdyk said. No wondering if it was an injury that might, say, force him to sit out a game or two but not knock him out of the playoffs.
“I knew,” he said. “It felt like my arm was down in my rib cage.”
Van Riemsdyk’s injury came early in Game 2 of the Islanders series at the Barclays Center in New York. The Canes won that game and then the next two to finish off a sweep. By then, van Riemsdyk had undergone shoulder surgery.
More pain was to follow. Van Riemsdyk could only watch as the Canes were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, a tough end to a special season.
“When you win it’s a little easier,” he said. “The Boston series didn’t go the way we would have liked it. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. The guys gave everything they had all year but couldn’t find ways to win in the Boston series. That’s the way it goes that time of year.”
Van Riemsdyk was on the other side in his rookie year with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15. He suffered both a broken kneecap and later a broken wrist that required surgery but was back in time for the Stanley Cup finals, making his playoff debut in Game 3 and playing four games against Tampa Bay as the ‘Hawks won the Cup.
With van Riemsdyk unable to go as this season began, Brind’Amour has used Haydn Fleury in the third D pairing, just as he did in last year’s playoffs. With seven D-men in the lineup Friday for the Ducks game, Fleury played just 5:59, all at even strength, and scored his first career NHL goal.
Brind’Amour now has the option of using van Riemsdyk, a right-handed shooter, with either Jake Gardiner or Joel Edmundson in the third pairing and have three lefty/righty D pairs.
The Canes (6-3-0) play their next game Thursday on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets. With center Erik Haula’s status still in doubt following his upper-body injury in the Ducks game -- Haula did not practice Sunday or Monday -- Brind’Amour said Monday that he could again dress seven defensemen.
Van Riemsdyk is not the flashy type. Not like his older brother, James, the Philadelphia Flyers forward who has been a media magnet since being the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Draft.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was undrafted. After three years of college hockey at New Hampshire, he signed with the Blackhawks, who made him available to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft -- Vegas selecting him, then trading him to Carolina. Now in his third season with the Hurricanes, he’s in the second year of a two-year contract that pays him a $2.5 million salary and is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Van Riemsdyk gave the Canes steady, if unsung play last year in the late-season push for the playoffs, scoring the tying goal late in a must-win game against the Montreal Canadiens that the Canes did win. He also starred in one of the more memorable post-game Storm Surges, showing good hops on his skates to dunk a basketball in March.
No. 57 is ready to quietly go about his business again, gnawing on the mouthpiece that’s always jutting out of his mouth as if chomping at the bit.
“When he’s up to speed I think it will be huge for us,” Brind’Amour said Sunday. “He’s a good defender and when I talk about doing it right, he’s one of those guys you know what you’re getting every shift.”