Ready for Reim Time?

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer is the club's clear-cut starter. The team's playoff hopes...

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer is the club's clear-cut starter. The team's playoff hopes likely rest on his shoulders. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:10 PM ET

TORONTO - It has become, in recent years, an NHL city where starting goalies come to die.

Since the lockout, in fact, the lack of reliable play in net has been among the leading causes of the Leafs’ franchise record playoff drought.

So now comes Reim Time, the celebrated start of James Reimer cast in a role of what the organization hopes will be the long-term franchise goaltender.

It’s asking a lot from a 23-year-old with just 30 NHL games as his big-league body of work. But those with an inside view of what makes the strapping native of Morweena, Man. tick, have no doubt Reimer is ready to thrive.

“He enjoys the success, but once he accomplishes something, he immediately looks to the next level,” his long time agent and friend, Ray Petkau said this week in a phone interview from Winnipeg.

“He knows it may be more difficult to remain the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs then to steal the job like he did last year. And he’s ready to do it.”

Steal it he did, starting with his first NHL start on New Year’s day and a 20-8-2 record the remainder of the season. That performance wiped out any need the organization felt to bring back J-S Giguere and prompted general manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson to forcefully and frequently declare that any resurgence of the team starts with Reimer.

Along the way last season, he went from the affable kid with the ear-to-ear smile to what appeared to be a legitimate NHLer. Eventually we learned how driven he is to succeed, a quality not lost on those who play in front of him.

“He’s such a competitive kid and this is how you want your goalie to be,” said Marlies coach, Dallas Eakins, who had Reimer on his AHL team this time a year ago.

“James honestly believes that any puck that goes in the net, he should have had. Some goalies will say they were screened or the puck was deflected or any excuse.

“The way James looks at it, he has to find a way to pick up the puck through a screen or get across the net quicker. He truly believes he should have every shot and I think that's what you need.”

Eakins loves Reimer’s technical approach to the game, a style so fundamentally sound you rarely see him make a spectacular save.

“The way James looks at it, most of those spectacular saves you see on the highlight shows are because the goalie is out of position,” Eakins said.

Like his agent, Eakins has no doubt that Reimer has the mental strength to back up his physical skill, the former trait perhaps being a key to succeeding here.

“He’s dreamed of this his whole life now he gets to do it in one of the most important markets in the NHL,” Eakins said. “We are in a city where we tend to build people up so highly that they can only fail. It’s such a great city to play hockey and there is such a great pressure to produce.

“But James is comfortable in his own skin and he doesn't give a crap about what other people think.

“What matters most to him is what his teammates think and after that his coaches and management.

“The rest of it is white noise.”

By now, Reimer knows the value of being able to flip on that white noise switch. If there’s been a practice or pre-season game that he hasn’t asked been asked about the apparent burden he’s about to face, we haven’t seen it.

Reimer’s stock answer is not a cliche, but a philosophy of his approach to the game.

“With all the expectations, the ones I put on myself are far greater than what anyone else has,” Reimer said. “There’s no worse feeling when your teammates come over to you after a loss ... I hate that look.

“I want to be able to look across the room and have them know I played as hard as I could. If I can do that throughout this season, I’m sure all the other expectations — wins, stats, whatever — will all take care of themselves.”

Take Reimer’s performance in the pre-season. While there was some evidence of struggle, particularly early in games, if Reimer has concerns he’s keeping them to himself.

“Exhibition is more about the fundamentals for me, especially this time around,” Reimer said. “It’s about feeling comfortable in net, getting comfortable with your D-men, feeling like I was in the right spot and playing big.”

Petkau says that Reimer has such a studious side that he will never grow complacent. Whether it’s tinkering with a minor piece of equipment or his post-practice sessions with Leafs goaltender Francois Allaire, Reimer is committed to chasing the impossible — perfection.

“Just watching how he deals with it, how he breaks things down within games, periods and minutes shows you how he approaches his job,” Petkau said. “He deals with the here and now.”

“I’ve thought of it a few times — it is probably the toughest market, especially for a goaltender to play in. I just think he’s a perfect fit for the market and the media. I think a lot of people don’t believe that, but he’ll be fine.”

Both Petkau and Eakins point to faith and family as the two backbones of Reimer the person. That’s not to say that Reimer doesn’t have his fiery side.

Petkau helps defuse it on the late night phone calls they often share.

“There’s times when he’s been fuming mad at himself and at a play and I’ve always said ‘James, whatever emotions you have get it out, at 12:01 it has to be forgotten,’ ” Petkau said. “If you deny it, you haven’t addressed it. You can’t dwell on it, but deal with it and move on.

“We often talk fairly late but once 12:01 comes, we joke around and talk about other things. It seems to be working. James is always looking forward and I don't think Toronto fans are going to be disappointed.

PRIORITIES IN ORDER

Consider that the previous year, James Reimer’s focus was all about making the Marlies to keep his pro hockey dream alive.

Since his sensational rise to become the Leafs No. 1 goalie, Reimer has had plenty to digest, from a new workout regimen to lose 20 pounds, to signing a new three-year contract worth $1.8 million per.

“A lot has happened,” Reimer’s agent Ray Petkau said this week. “When he first got there, he hardly had time to think. After the season ended, he had a few days to enjoy the success then it was off to the worlds.”

While he spent much of the summer training in B.C., Reimer made sure he got settled in Toronto, buying his first home here, not far from the team’s practice facility.

“In the summer, he signed his contract and after that let it sink in a little,” Petkau said. “He has his priorities in order.”


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