TORONTO - Just a few days ago, James Reimer was talking about play-and-travel all-nighters in the East Coast Hockey League, where the only greeter for the bus at dawn might be a stray dog.
So, he’s not letting his red head get too inflated with the growing adulation for his role in keeping the Maple Leafs alive for a playoff spot.
“You play down in the ECHL where no one is (watching) and you don’t know where your career is going,” Reimer said. “You learn to be happy with a lot and learn to be happy with a little.”
Fans in Toronto haven’t been able to embrace a goalie for almost a decade, before Curtis Joseph made the mistake of leaving for what he thought were greener pastures. Ed Belfour was good, but too grouchy and no one has played well enough or long enough since. Reimer has been in only 16 games, winning nine, but the lack of hype worked in his favour when he started shining. And since his big break, with the injuries to Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, the Leafs seem to be a different, more tidy team.
With a bit of playoff buzz, Leafs Nation quickly moved to his corner and Reimer found himself as far away from the ECHL or his hometown of Morweena, Man., as one could get.
“After (Tuesday’s) game, people come up to you and want to take pictures, which is a lot different for me,” Reimer said. “You’re recognized when you’re going out to eat. And I went out to buy a pair of shoes the other day and the (salesman) said: ‘Oh, you’re James Reimer’. I said: ‘Yeah, and I was James Reimer yesterday, too’. Every day, I keep getting surprised by something. I‘m still just trying to enjoy the ride.”
The stand-up goalie credits his parents, Harold and Marlene, and relations from in and around rural Morweena, with grounding him off the ice.
“They keep me level-headed. They feel free to take me down a few notches if need be,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of text messages, phone calls, e-mails from friends and family. They’re all excited for me. They’re all stoked, they’ve gone out and bought the NHL TV package. I’m happy that we can enjoy this as an extended family.
“That’s the value of growing up with good morals and I consider myself blessed to be here. So I don’t think too much about what comes with the game.”
One sportscaster pegged Reimer perfectly, as a kid who sounds like he just won a contest to spend a month with the Leafs.
“It is a dream come true,” Reimer agreed. “I didn’t play organized hockey until I was 12. It was road hockey or street hockey between periods of Hockey Night In Canada. Now, all of a sudden I’m here.
“I try not to forget where I came from. Now you can’t take it for granted. You have to try your hardest and make sure you deserve to be here.”