TORONTO - When he reports to his first training camp as a No. 1 NHL goaltender, James Reimer will have a surprise for the Maple Leafs training staff.
A leaner, if not necessarily meaner, Reimer will weigh-in at the Mastercard Centre Friday morning for medicals some 20 pounds lighter than when he ended his magical run at the end of the 2010-11 season.
For his own self-preservation, let’s hope not many of those pounds dropped from the Morweena, Man., native came from his shoulders.
Yes, expectations are sky high for the trim-downed goaltender from all corners of the city.
GM Brian Burke couldn’t be more clear that his philosophy of building a winning team starts from the net out.
Coach Ron Wilson is on record this month as saying that a continuation of Reimer’s sensational spring would be the key to the team finally making the playoffs in this his fourth season behind the Toronto bench.
And as Reimer has discovered walking the streets of his new home town, Leafs fans have fallen for him head over heels.
“I don’t think one player in all of sports has a greater responsibility of being able to lose the game than a (goaltender does in hockey),” Reimer said Thursday at Woodbine Racetrack where he was the celebrity draw master for Sunday’s $1-million Woodbine Mile thoroughbred race.
“A goalie can’t necessarily win the game, but he can lose it for you. It’s a huge responsibility to be a goalie, so what (Burke) says is true.
“There is more pressure for sure. People get excited from last year and obviously they expect that this year. All I’m worried about right now is making that first save. If I start worrying that I have to win double the 20 wins (from last season) or whatever people are saying, that’s when I’m going to run into trouble.”
Spoken like the mild-mannered young man who won over Leafs fans with his 20 wins in 37 appearances with the Leafs late last season.
Reimer’s stock line is that he puts more pressure on himself than Burke, Wilson, his teammates and Leafs Nation combined. And while 30 NHL games may not be enough of a body of work for some, Reimer says he’s ready to tune out the avalanche of hype that will surround him, starting with the team’s first pre-season game Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.
“Obviously I know there’s a lot of expectations out there, but all I worry about out there is not letting (my teammates) down,” Reimer said.
“That’s the worst feeling on earth when your teammates come to you and give you the ‘we lost but good job’ pat on the back.
“I hate that feeling.”
The feeling he likes, for now anyway, is the lighter, leaner look that began as an experiment and ended with a body he is anxious to see in action.
Reimer said the change in physique came from a more nutritional diet that he hopes will help him endure the rigours of an 82-season in the bigs.
“A lot of people say the lighter you are the quicker you are,” said Reimer, who a year ago was just hoping to nail down the top goaltending spot with the Marlies.
“This summer, I just tried to eat a little healthier and just take care of my body and the pounds came off with it.
“However much weight I lose doing that, I thought ‘that’s probably good.’ My body will be at its peak performance as far as nutrition is concerned.”
Reimer is listed in the team’s training camp media guide at 220 pounds but admits he tends to add a little weight in season.
As for the other type of weight — that being the burden of expectation from a fan base and a city starved for a winner, Reimer says he’s ready to do what he does best.
“Right now all I care about is fitness assessment (on Friday) and making that first save in training camp (on Saturday) and going from there,” Reimer said.