Ex-Flyer JVR thriving in 'fishbowl'

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

TORONTO - Life is good for former Flyer James van Riemsdyk.

He loves playing in the "fishbowl" - his word - of Toronto.

Fact is, he is thriving in it.

The 24-year-old Maple Leafs left winger, acquired for defenseman Luke Schenn in 2012, has set career highs in goals (26) and assists (26) and has been a part of one of the NHL's most dynamic lines, with center Tyler Bozak and explosive right winger Phil Kessel.

"It's always a challenge and always makes it a little more fun against a team you have history with," van Riemsdyk said after the morning skate and before Saturday's game against the Flyers. ". . . This is a big game for both of us in the standings; we're pretty close as far as that goes."

Van Riemsdyk, who has bulked up noticeably since his Flyers days, was asked to compare the atmosphere of playing in Philadelphia with Toronto.

"Philly, building-wise and fan-wise, you can't ask for a better atmosphere in the league. It's a rocking building and loud," he said. "That playoff run [to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010] is something I'll always remember. That was something that was always really cool.

"Here, they're really passionate about hockey," the Central Jersey native added. "You're obviously in a little more of a fishbowl here just because the Eagles and maybe the Phillies might be the team in Philadelphia. The Leafs are basically the team of Toronto, if not Canada's national team. It's a little bit more of a fishbowl.

". . . I like it a lot. It's fun playing in a hockey city like this."

Van Riemsdyk starred on the disappointing U.S. Olympic team.

"It was something I kind of always wanted to do, and to get a chance to play in that setting, it was great," he said. "That atmosphere we had against Russia in that building was one of the more memorable games I've ever played in."

Back home, his family held a viewing party at a bar in Middletown, N.J.

"They weren't expecting much; they were having a breakfast gathering and expected maybe a couple people from the neighborhood to come by, and they sold out the whole bar," he said. "I think 200 people were there. They basically shut down the place."

Breakaways. Steve Downie missed Saturday's game with the flu and was replaced by Jay Rosehill. . . . Entering the night, the Flyers were 17-2-1 when Claude Giroux scored a goal. . . . The Flyers are in the middle of a stretch in which they play just three games in 12 days, but they will finish the season with 17 games in 30 days.