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Reimer Keeps His Cool

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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James Reimer cannot exist.

There is no way a 22-year old kid from Morweena, Manitoba,a colony better known for being north of Arborg, slides unto the Leafs roster and authors this most unlikely story.

No way that he now has more wins than the prized, star-crossed Jonas Gustavsson. No way that he has won seven games in 11 starts tries while it took the highly-decorated J.S. Giguere 16 games to reach the same number.

No way that he keeps a beard that would only be in fashion in the AHL (Amish Hockey League) and that he is relentlessly, unfailingly grounded, polite and equal parts mystified and delighted with what is happening to him.

James Reimer is Toronto’s Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, a lovable comet who won 19 games for the Detroit Tigers way back in 1976 and said he never let his dishes stack up too high because he only had four of them. He is the kind of story who doesn’t happen in a world where the internet and exhaustive coverage insists there are no surprises, no secrets left.

His story is rich. His father Harold, for example, makes a fine living moving houses around Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. His parents kept him out of minor hockey for several years because they weren’t quite sure the environment was right for him. That changed when the son of a local hockey coach couldn’t score on him in an outdoor game and went to tell his Dad who pleaded with the Reimers to let him play. James met his wife April at a Moose Jaw Warriors game. Do I need to go on?

Most phenoms are habitual winners. Otherwise, without the pedigree of a high draft, how would they get the chance? Reimer’s record speaks to an excellent prospect. In six years playing major junior and pro hockey, he has never posted a save percentage less than .900. The .928 percentage and 2.44 goals against he has gained with the Leafs mirrors what he did in his 44 games with the Marlies.

For a moment, throw out the fact that Reimer does not qualify to be listed among the league’s best goalies because he hasn’t played enough games. His save percentage is third in the NHL. His goals against, a truer measure of the team around him, is 12th.

There is, in Reimer’s game, an ethereal calm. What others see as the enormity of a situation, a game in a hostile arena, a two-man disadvantage, seems to have little effect. He is different.

Problem is he is also human. Felix Potvin, the Leafs’ last great homegrown goaltender, projected exactly the same otherworldly calm. But The Cat eventually became skittish and habitually retreated into his net where, it turns out, it would be easier to fish out the puck.

There are scads of prodigy stories and often they do not end well. Jim Carey earned a Calder Trophy for the Washington Capitals and won 35 games in 1995-96. The rest of his career would yield only 27 big league wins.
More recently, Columbus goalie Steve Mason has yet to recapture the form that earned him the Calder in 2009.

Fidrych permanently damaged his second big league camp when he wrenched his knee shagging flies in Florida.

All of this, in a funny way, makes the James Reimer story so wondrous.  Who knows whether he fashions a 12-year career or whether an orderly universe returns with a vengeance and puts him back where he belongs.

But this we do know. As a goalie, as a person, he doesn’t have to get any better. He will want to, that is his nature, but he won’t have to. He just needs to keep what he’s got. And how many hockey players, or people for that matter, can say that?
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