April 9, 2012
Reimer finds own silver lining
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
TORONTO - James Reimer didn't have to reflect much on the lost season of 2011-12 to zero in on where it started to go off the rails.
The Maple Leafs goaltender acknowledged he never felt the same after the Montreal Canadiens' Brian Gionta knocked him on the head during a game on Oct. 22.
"That was a huge turning point, but there were plenty of games left for me to find it consistently," Reimer said on Monday as the Leafs gathered one last time at the Air Canada Centre.
"Once I came back from the injury, I was not quite back on my game, for whatever reason, just not as sharp as I would have liked. When your goalie is not as sharp, often things do not go as well as you would like for the whole team, when we are in a position where we can have a huge outcome on the game."
Reimer was 4-0-1 when he got conked by Gionta and missed the next 18 games. His record upon returning was 10-14-3, and he watched the final six games when headaches flared up again.
The Leafs were loathe to say Reimer had a concussion until goaltending consultant Francois Allaire used the word toward the end of February to describe Reimer's condition.
But Reimer saw a specialist in Montreal this past weekend and got some different news.
"He said it was pretty much neck-related, something that is really fixable, so there should be no problem going forward," Reimer said. "It's really outstanding news for me. It kind of wiped the slate clean."
We'll never know how the Leafs' season would have unfolded had Gionta not skated into Reimer. The goaltending inconsistency ultimately was a large factor in the Leafs' tumble from a playoff spot as neither Reimer nor Jonas Gustavsson, who faces unrestricted free agency this summer, could solidify the No. 1 spot.
Ben Scrivens proved he could play in the NHL, but most observers think general manager Brian Burke has little choice this off-season but to acquire a veteran netminder.
"When I come to camp, whatever the expectations may be on me, I'm going to try to go out there and have some fun and play as hard as I can, and prove that I can still be a starter," Reimer said.
"I trust anything and everything Burkie does. I think (having a cemented No. 1 goalie) helps. But if you have two good goalies, I don't think it is too much of a hindrance. If you have a stable No. 1 ... it's something I want to be. Not having the success I wanted, it gives me motivation to try to be that guy next year and going forward."
Reimer isn't the sort who looks elsewhere for excuses and readily said that 2011-12 "was one of the toughest years of my career."
Little wonder. The expectations -- from himself, the team, the fans, the media -- were immediate when Reimer signed a three-year, $5.4-million US contract last June. After winning 20 games in 37 appearances the previous season, Reimer had been given the keys to the crease by Burke.
No one could foretell the injury, and no one could foretell that Reimer would struggle upon returning.
But out of adversity, Reimer hopes, come lessons learned. He won't know for sure until next season, but has a good idea of what he picked up.
"How to be mentally tough," the 24-year-old said. "I learned so many things about myself, so many things about my character and faith, my ability to play in different situations on the ice, how to respond to different types of adversity, criticism, expectations, you name it. The list is huge. You never want to have a tough season because you always want to win.
"To find a way to come and keep working hard in practice and try to have a smile on your face and try to get better even though there is a lot of negativity around you -- that is probably the biggest thing I learned.
"Hopefully in 15 years when I look back on my career, I will see this as one of the most valuable years of my life."