Leafs have faith in Reimer

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 PM ET

TORONTO - While in the minors, James Reimer has slept on the floor of a bus for hours on an overnight trip to obscure hockey venues.

When he goes home this summer, he’ll live the life of an older brother from a sibling not likely to give him too much worship for being the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When you come from a small town in Manitoba and faith and family mean as much or more than your save percentage, maybe the so-called sophomore jinx doesn’t even enter the equation.

That’s the hope and expectation from Reimer made clear Monday at the Air Canada Centre following his exit interview to officially end his sensational rookie season. It was a point no doubt stressed by coach Ron Wilson and general manager Brian Burke, but if there ever was a grounded superstar in this city, this kid might be it.

“You can’t let everything seep in from people patting you on the back or saying you are good,” Reimer said. “You accept it and are thankful for it, but you can’t let it go to your head.

“Obviously I was scratching and clawing to get whatever playing time and impress as many people as possible. When you have no history, you have to work really hard just to get that opportunity. I think if I changed that mind set, I might run into a few problems.”

It is precisely that mind set, really, that got Reimer to where he is today.

Wilson talked on Monday about how the team played better in front of the 6-foot-2, 23-year-old and how he essentially walked through an open door then slammed it on both J-S Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson.

Incredible, really, that a kid who entered the season at best third on the team’s depth chart, finished with 20 wins and 10 losses, a save percentage of .921 and a goals against average of 2.60.

“(Reimer) I’m sure is going to continue where he left off,” Wilson said. “He seems immune to all the attention. He stayed focussed pretty much all the way through it.”

Reimer was quick to acknowledge that he is a product of a collection of his life experiences both inside and outside of hockey.

It was just two years ago that he made his first major impression on Leafs brass, who had selected him in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2006 NHL draft. That spring, Reimer was named the East Coast Hockey League’s MVP after standing on his head for the South Carolina Stingrays.

“There were some instances where we had a sleeper bus for these overnight trips and there weren’t enough beds for everyone,” Reimer said. “The rookies would have to sleep on the floor. Those were some tough times when you look back at it, but it builds character and it makes you a better person and a better player.”

Will Reimer struggle in his second full season? Possibly. But it’s difficult to imagine he’ll ever have trouble getting his head inside his mask.

“Obviously playing in the NHL is a dream of mine,” Reimer said. “That’s not going to change just because I’ve played some games here.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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