June 22, 2011
Reimer eager to prove himself
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
Three months before the Maple Leafs begin training camp, James Reimer already is working the room, a high-performance gym in B.C. to be exact, very eager to prove a point.
"I do not intend to be a one-year wonder," said the man shouldering much of the team's playoff fortunes, in whom they've just invested $5.4 million US. "I will not dwell on past success. I intend to live in the present.
"This is going to be a huge off-season for me. I want to make a splash, with the same success, if not more."
He spends 2 1/2 hours a day in Adam Francilia's Fitlife Centre for Health and Performance in Maple Ridge, near Vancouver, while adhering to an organic inspired nutrition plan. Francilia hopes to hand back the 6-foot-2 Reimer to Leaf goalie guru Francois Allaire and strength coach Anthony Belza in September about five to 10 pounds lighter, to be even quicker on his skates and upper-body reflexes.
"He knows the challenges he has ahead," said Francilia, who works with NHLers Andrew Ladd, Brandon Yip, as well as pro baseball and lacrosse players. "We know the expectation (coach) Ron Wilson has for him is about 60 to 65 games. He wants to make the most of the opportunity he's been given and we've already seen improvements, not just physically, but in the lifestyle component that goes with it."
Reimer's last NHL game was April 10, but he's hardly been idle since.
He played for Canada at the world championship in May, then took just a week off, to Hawaii to mark his one-year wedding anniversary, during which a fax arrived confirming his first big-league pay-day. He'll be getting $2.2 million this season and $1.6 million through 2013-14.
"We had agreed verbally before leaving, but it was nice to get the news it was official. That was a lot more money than I ever thought I could make at (age 23). I didn't expect to get as far as I did so quickly. I enjoyed it, now I want to build on it."
There has been so little to celebrate with this team in the course of six losing seasons that any positive development tends to get over-cooked on the fan/media hot plate. Bereft of a star since Mats Sundin departed and only now recovering from prospect neglect, the Leafs have only Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin as polished homegrown products and a whole lot of flavours-of-the-month, with Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Jonas Gustavsson.
That was before Reimer came to town in late December, without any personal bravado or Brian Burke hype. His record was 20-10-5, with the league's second-best save percentage by a rookie of .921. In a club that was low on post-season hope before the halfway mark of the NHL schedule, a coach under fire and the cynics out in force, the small-town Manitoba Mennonite was just the tonic in goal and an air freshener in the room.
It was as though Richie Cunningham from Happy Days had wandered into 60 Bay St., earnest, polite, attentive, a bit naive, but in a good way. As one observer said, he approached each day with the zeal of a wide-eyed kid who'd won a contest to be a Leaf for a month. He'd actually attended some of the club's prospect camps since getting drafted 99th overall in 2006, which included a crash course in media relations and team history. He also watched how veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere handled himself during and after wins and losses.
"I've worked with James three years and he's one of the nicest humans you will meet," Francilia said. "He's humble, grounded and taken success in stride, a product of his good upbringing."
And that means not letting on-ice success or financial windfall go to his head. It didn't take long before his No. 34 sweater was the fastest seller at the ACC and held that position into the summer.
"(Money) might change some of the things around me with some of my acquaintances," Reimer said. "But with friends and family, I was James Reimer before and I will be James Reimer when I go back home."
But there will be some differences after Francilia's program is completed this summer. Though Reimer is tall, it's not the upper-body that is the concern at present.
"For a goalie, the energy system is different," Francilia said. "Forwards and defencemen are sprint athletes who have 40-to-50 second shifts. I joke with Reims often that he's almost playing a completely different sport than what's going on around him.
"He's a big man, who takes up a lot of net, but excess weight can slow you down and put stress on your connective tissue. Goalies use their hips, groins and knees a lot and if you have a strong trunk like James, you don't need to have a huge upper body. You want the (flexibility) to make high and low blocker saves. You make sure he has the conditioning base, but that it allows him to be extremely explosive.
"He has strong leg abductors and abductors that let him move side to side, We do a lot of scientific lower back work and core work as well as muscular endurance, which is important in a game where you're facing a lot of rubber and a lot of penalty killing situations."
Francilia said Reimer had a typical junior player's attitude to diet when they first hooked up, but after preaching from himself and Belza, they have turned the corner.
"He's in here part of the day, but when you get out, it takes some discipline to eat right," Francilia said. "The right nutrition fuels the body and aids in recovery. We try and do a lot of vegetable juice, wheatgrass shots and a high variety of organic fruits and vegetables. We want clean protein and clean-burning, high quality fuel and fresh living foods. There's a lot of squash, sweet potatoes and trying many raw ingredients, such as almond milk and coconut milk."
Unlikely as Reimer's rise to fame was -- the club was more interested in Giguere, Gustavsson and newcomers Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens last year -- he hopes to be here beyond 2014. His contract provides a reward for last year, incentive for 2011-12 is very affordable for the Leafs the next two seasons. Burke and agent Ray Petkau structured it so Reimer wouldn't have the big ticket hanging over his head if he or the team have more growing pains. But if Reimer keeps rising, he'll be due a greater reward, perhaps before this deal expires or certainly after, when he'll also be eyeing a free agent option.
"This has all been such a huge blessing for me," Reimer said. "All I wanted to do was stay in Toronto. But now that's it done, I'm going to work my heart off here."