As Leafs goalie James Reimer
slides his catching glove into the metal shelf above his locker, I approach him with a challenge.
“James,” I say. “My goal is to ask you a question you haven’t been asked before.”
He smiles brightly, like someone who has finally unearthed the final word of a crossword.
“Good luck with that,” he says.
True enough. Since his first Leafs game Dec. 20, James Reimer
has been buzzed about his junior and minor league days and about the fact his Dad moves houses for a living. He has offered the story of his beginnings (a kid on an outdoor rink could not score on him and ran to tell his dad the coach). He has been asked about being awed, about goals and saves, about his religion (he goes to church every Sunday).
Some of the best pen-carrying clinicians in the business have taken their turns on James Reimer
because the only thing more unlikely than his success is his demeanour. His default setting is joyful and he is unassuming to the point otherworldliness.
“With Reims what you see is what you get,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek
. “He’s a genuine, solid, human being who goes to church every Sunday.”
Reimer has actually developed a vocabulary of non-swear words that, from a distance, sound a bit like swear words. They have become a part of the team’s lexicon.
This, of course, can’t be. In Miracle on 34th Street, the debate as to whether Kris Kringle is actually who he claims to be, Santa Claus, drives the movie.
Are you who you seem to be? That’s what people want to know. That’s why they read books like the Harry Potter series and why they flock to Batman and Spiderman movies and rent the Illusionist or Casablanca, the Shawshank Redemption or Schindler’s List. It is why, some would pos it, people read the New Testament.
People share an irresistible human need to know if Mike Komisarek
is right. Is what you see with James Reimer
what you get because if it is, if the perfectly balanced guy behind the mask is really the perfectly balanced goalie, then the Leafs and their countless fans have a rooting share in something remarkable.
“So, James, how about your clichés?" Did you watch that scene from Bull Durham about learning your clichés?”
“You know, I must have seen that movie 10 times on the bus playing for Red Deer but I can never remember that part.”
“Did you ever practice your autograph?”
“Once, when I was a little kid. I wrote my whole name out and it was brutal. I practiced a bit but then I felt like I was being a cocky kid and I stopped.”
“Do you find dealing with these questions a chore?”
“It sucks after you lose to have to reflect on everything that went wrong. But then when you lose, taking a shower sucks. Eating sucks. Everything sucks.”
There have been cracks in the façade. “I can tell you one area where he has already started to change,” smirked Keith Aulie who played with Reimer with the Marlies. “He’s taking his wife out to dinner more often. I think he’s started going to restaurants with her most nights. So there’s that.”
For himself, Reimer is wary of changing.
“In 10 years I hope I would have matured a bit,” he said. “But I hope someone gives me a slap if I start to change.”
There would be no shortage of volunteers.
Reimer makes his 12th straight start Thursday night as the Leafs face the Philadelphia Flyers. In 23 games he has won 12, lost 5 and suffered four overtime losses. The Flyers arrive having bottomed out with a 7-0 shellacking administered by the New York Rangers two games ago. The Flyers rebounded to beat Edmonton 4-1 and despite a bout of flu that has run through the club, Philadelphia’s record 41-19-6 puts the club atop the Eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs sit four points out with 15 games to play.