The Toronto Maple Leafs star on bucket list destinations, Toronto living, and how the team travels.
He’s a professional hockey player, an Olympic athlete, even an actor with a Hollywood credit under his belt. He’s traveled all over the globe and lives in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.
At 26, Toronto Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk has already lived a life most could only dream of. As the 2015-2016 NHL season kicks off, the 2nd overall pick in the 2007 draft speaks with T+L about packing for road trips, living in Canada, meeting Ed Sheeran, and, yes, acting in that movie.
You grew up in New Jersey, and now you’re in Toronto playing for the Maple Leafs. What’s it like living in a Canadian city?
It’s really not too different than living anywhere in the States, I’ve found. The one big difference is that there’s a whole lot of passion for hockey, so you get more of that in your day-to-day life.
Do you have a favorite bar or restaurant in Toronto?
It would have to be Sotto Sotto. It’s an old-school Italian place. It’s one of my favorite places to eat anywhere, not just Toronto.
How do the Maple Leafs travel?
We have one bus trip, and that’s to Buffalo because it’s only like an hour and a half away, but everywhere else, we fly. We have a team charter. Usually we all sit in our same spots.
Where, besides Toronto, is your favorite place to play in the NHL?
That’s a tough one, but two really stick out. One is playing against the Rangers in New York City, just because I grew up going to games there and because New York’s an unbelievable city. There’s just a great energy there. And the other, I spend the majority of my summers in Minnesota, so I love playing there I get to see some old friends, and it’s a good building to play in as well, as far as the atmosphere and the fans.
Old friends in Minnesota?
I ended up out there when I was looking to buy a place. It’s just a good place to be as far as training in the summer, and I’ve got a lot of friends from over the years in hockey who live out there. It’s also beautiful during the summer. It worked out to be a perfect spot for me.
You come from a big hockey family. Did you travel a lot for hockey growing up?
Yeah, it was all over the place. Between my two brothers and me we were always shuttling around New Jersey, New England, even up to Canada. As we’ve gotten older, I’ve only gotten to do even more traveling, playing in Europe and all over the world representing the U.S. The majority of my travel has been hockey-related.
As a seasoned travel vet, do you have any particular packing strategies or tips?
For me less is more. You don’t want to bring everything you own. For every three games on the road I try to have one suit and alternate a shirt and tie with it. I’ve also picked up some tricks over the years from watching my mom packing for us growing up [laughs], like putting all your socks inside your shoes before putting your shoes in your bag, stuff like that to maximize space.
What is your one must-have travel item?
A good pair of headphones is key. I’m big into music and watching TV shows and movies on my iPad, and a good pair of headphones goes a long way.
What kind of headphones do you have?
I try out a ton of different ones. Right now I have a pair of Bose ones, and I like them a lot. I got them at the Olympics last year—they gave us a little gift bag of stuff to take back with us. They’re kind of a quirky color, like a teal. They’re a little different and flashy [laughs].
What was it like to be in Sochi?
It was a little different from any other time I’ve been overseas for hockey. Everything was pretty much locked down. And we played a lot of games in a short amount of time, so there wasn’t a crazy amount of down time. We did get one chance to venture out into an area of the city called Adler. And it was a great experience to go over there and be an Olympian among all the other athletes.
You said you’re big into music. I may or may not have snooped on your Instagram account and seen a picture of you with Ed Sheeran. Did you meet him? And what do you listen to on the road?
I got a chance to meet him when he played in Toronto this summer, and that was a really cool experience for me. He’s one of my favorite artists, and he seems to have just blown up, especially within the last year or so. I like a little bit of everything, though: John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Calvin Harris. And Drake, being in Toronto, you gotta be a fan of him.
You’re an Olympian, you’ve met Ed Sheeran, and you’ve been in a movie, This is 40. How did that happen, and what was it like?
It was pretty sweet. Another thing to cross off the bucket list. They wanted a hockey player without any teeth, and my teammate [in Philadelphia] at the time, Ian Laperrière, fit that role to a T. They asked him to bring along some teammates, and I was lucky enough to be one of the guys to get to go. We’d be there from seven in the morning to two in the morning the next day for basically two and a half minutes of clip. It gave me a new appreciation of all the hard work that goes into making movies.
One last important travel question: What is your ultimate bucket list destination?
I’d say Bora Bora. Any time you see a picture of it, it looks like a postcard. The water’s so clear, and they have those little huts right on the water. That would be the place I’d go.
Chris Abell is a web producer and contributing writer at Travel+Leisure. You can follow him on Instagram at @buildingflavors.