James Reimer doesn’t come across as a 21-year-old. Maybe it’s growing up on the prairie that has given him the wisdom and perspective of a seasoned veteran.
But Reimer, who only turned 21 a few weeks ago, is a rookie pro this year. He began the season with the ECHL Reading Royals, but was moved by the Maple Leafs to the Capitals’ affiliate South Carolina Stingrays, who needed help in goal after losing both Bobby Goepfert and Michal Neuvirth earlier in the year.
Eight goaltenders have played for the Stingrays this season, and Reimer’s numbers are by far the best, with a 6-0-0 record, .961 save percentage and 1.32 GAA. It’s a small sample size, but it bodes well for the Stingrays’ playoff aspirations.
Reimer was called up to the AHL Toronto Marlies three times throughout the season, playing in three games and posting a 1-2-0 record, 3.28 GAA and .882 save percentage.
The 6’2 Arborg, Manitoba native played just 30 games last year for the WHL Red Deer Rebels due to an ankle injury. He was drafted in the fourth round, 99th overall in 2006.
Technically sound with good size as well, it’s his positive attitude and people skills that would combine to make him an excellent coach some day when he finishes his pro career.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Reimer after a recent Stingrays game.
HF: You’re here with South Carolina to get some playoff experience, correct?
JR: Yeah, Toronto sent me here to just get a little more experience, more playing time and play in the playoffs. In my career I’ve only been in one playoff series – at least in major junior (2006-07) – so they want me to get experience here.
HF: How did you think the adjustment went to pro hockey this year overall?
JR: Overall, looking back I think it’s gone well. I mean, there’s been some disappointments and a lot of laughs, good times. At first it was just getting used to the play – the speed and plays happen faster. I think by now I’ve adjusted well.
HF: Did you have highs and lows in confidence? Reading was tough sledding, not as good of a team as South Carolina.
JR: Um, not so much my confidence. Obviously when you’re not winning so many game, or as many as you’d like to, confidence isn’t as high. But I just try to work on my personal game and try to get better every day. I thought even though we weren’t winning so many games, I was improving and gained confidence from that. And then with call-ups, with Toronto the games went well, the experience was good there so confidence was high there. Then coming down here, the team’s phenomenal. They come to play every night and it’s amazing.
HF: You spent your entire junior career in Red Deer and then this year you were on three different teams, is that stressful?
JR: Um, a little bit. The most stressful was coming down from Toronto to Reading. I never really experienced anything like that. Being in pro hockey, on your own, getting your own food and groceries. It was a new experience. It took a couple months to fully adjust but it was a rough couple of days to try to get my head on straight. The guys were good there and they helped me out.
HF: What was the toughest part of living on your own, the cooking?
JR: Probably the cooking. I’m not a Chef Boyardee or anything. Now I’m making do, I’ll make some chicken, some pasta, I get by. I haven’t lost too much weight so I think I’m alright (laughs).
HF: What would you now say is your specialty in the kitchen?
JR: My specialty in the kitchen…chicken fingers and fries? No, I’m a big chicken and potatoes guy. That’s pretty easy. Microwave it.
HF: What do you put on the chicken?
JR: I’m kind of addicted to ketchup. That’s all I put on chicken, potatoes, pretty much any kind of meat. I get by pretty easy that way.
HF: Last year you had an ankle injury, was it a high ankle sprain?
JR: Yeah, and it was more unique than that. It was really an odd injury, really rare. I tore a ligament in my ankle. It took five months to get back. I was in a walking cast for about two months and that just compressed it together so it healed.
HF: Did you get down, wondering if you’d ever get back?
JR: The first month when there was hardly an improvement you kind of start to get a little worried. You kind of doubt it. But I was confident in what the doctors were saying and just trusted them and their ability to read the injury. It took a while, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.
HF: Which goalie coach have you worked with in your career who’s been the most helpful?
JR: The one in Red Deer, Andy Nowicki (formerly with the LA Kings), I had him for three years and he was really helpful in the mental part of the game. He talked about focusing and I still use plenty of the tactics he taught me. Another one has been this year, Corey Hirsch. I love working with him. He knows a lot. Doesn’t try to force anything on you, but just suggests things and every time he’s done that, I’ve tried it out and he’s right. So it’s improved my game and I really like working with him.
HF: Did he visit you in Reading?
JR: No, I think the weekend he was going to come I got called up so I worked with him there.
HF: How’d it go with the Marlies when you were up there? Did you feel you played well?
JR: Yeah, I think. The first game I was up there I played fairly well and it was a good experience. It was something special playing against the team I grew up watching, the (Manitoba) Moose. The second game didn’t go so well, I wasn’t too impressed with my performance. But the last time I played up there I thought I played well and was reading the play better and my positioning was better. I think overall I’ve been happy. Hopefully I’ll get to go up there and play a couple more games. If that doesn’t happen I’ll keep my head up and keep playing.
HF: You seem really easy-going for a goalie.
JR: I think so – a lot of goalies have their little superstitions or don’t like to be bugged. The way I see it is just play the same way every day. If someone touches my pads, that shouldn’t affect what I’ve practiced my whole life (laughs). If I let that affect me, something’s wrong. I just go out there and have faith in my abilities and all the other little stuff is just under the water.
HF: I’m catching you after a win, but after a loss would you be in a bad mood?
JR: I’ve really improved that as I’ve matured as a player. Generally I’m probably my harshest critic. After a game I’ll be in a little bit of a bad mood, not a complete grump, but I’ll take a couple hours to go over the game and see what I’ could have done better and after that, put it behind me. Put a smile on my face and move on.
HF: What is it that you have on the back of your mask?
JR: It’s a tribute to my cousin Ramona. She has a rare type of cancer. She’s 24, 25, I believe. It’s a tribute to her. There’s a heart that has Ramona’s Courage under it. That’s the sign of her battle. The big picture is an angel defeating a demon and at the bottom is a Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10. It says ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God and I’ll raise you up and hold you in my righteous right hand.’
HF: And there’s also an eagle?
JR: My favorite goalie is Eddie Belfour. It was actually an afterthought. I told the painters exactly what I wanted on my helmet, and I called a day later and I’m like ‘Hey can you put this on for me?’ So it’s just a little eagle with #20 in the feathers.
HF: There’s a few Red Deer guys eligible for the draft this year. Can you tell us about Cass Mappin?
JR: He’s a phenomenal guy and a great player. I talked to him a bit this year and kept in touch with him. I think he’s had a really good year with Red Deer and that’s really good to see because the two years I played with him, he’s kind of gotten the short end of the stick. Not a whole lot of playing time and not a whole lot of support. To see him have a breakthrough year is phenomenal because he’s a great hockey player and an even better guy.
HF: Sounds like he may go in the second or third round of the draft.
JR: I completely believe that. I’ve known for a long time that he’s a great player just from playing against him in practice and stuff, his shot and how hard he works. In my mind, he should go in the first round (laughs). Wherever he goes, he deserves it.
HF: Tell us about his shot, since you have a good perspective on it.
JR: The best way to describe it is every time he shot the puck, it hurt. For him that’s good, but for me, not so good (laughs). He has a hard shot, and it’s hard to read. It’s always a challenge to play against him.
HF: How about Darcy Kuemper?
JR: I just know him from camp, just a week. But from what I’ve seen, he’s a really athletic kid and work hard, is good positionally, and has good size and uses that to his advantage. The downfall of big goalies is that they don’t move quick and kind of take themselves out of the play, but from what I saw, he’s great positionally and moves well in the net. It’s good to see him have success.