The Toronto Maple Leafs had a huge roller coaster season this year. They finished with a 37-34-11 record (85 points) good enough for 10th in the Eastern Conference and 22nd in the NHL. Before the season there was a lot of speculation around Leaf Land that they could finally make the playoffs and end the drought that started in ‘05-’06. They started off strong winning their first 4 games before going an abysmal 1-8-3 in their next 12. Things didn’t get much better as they went 8-11-1 to end 2010. With an overall record of 13-19-4 (13th in the East, 14pts back of 8th place Montreal) going in to 2011 there wasn’t a lot of hope left in Toronto, but one man changed all of that.
On January 1st rookie goalie James Reimer got his first NHL start vs. the rival Ottawa Senators. The Leafs won 5-1 and Reimer got his first NHL win. He then got the next few starts against good teams like Boston, San Jose and Los Angeles and the Leafs won all of those games. Reimer was sent down after losing a game 5-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes but it didn’t take long for him to get back up with the big club, getting called back up on January 25th. He started vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on February 3rd where he won 3-0 and from there, he never looked back. The team finished off very strong with a 17-9-6 record since that game.
This left Leaf Nation with more hope going into next season than ever before. The biggest question now is: can James Reimer continue his awesome play? I think he will, and here’s why I think he can. The biggest reason being that he doesn’t rattle easily. In fact, when pressure is at its highest it seems that Reimer actually gets calmer, which sends a message to the team that everything is OK. Another reason is just look at all of the goalies who have come from (seemingly) out of nowhere and played well and continued it: Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, and Miikka Kipprusoff. Actually, all of these goalies were drafted at a lower position than Reimer was (99th overall in 2006). Now I’m not saying that Reimer will be as good as any of these guys but it just goes to show that you don’t need to be a highly rated talent like Carey Price or Marc-Andre Fleury to be successful. The final reason is that he has the whole team (and fan base) behind him. Success isn’t new to Reimer. He won the Kelly Cup Championship with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL in 2008-’09 and was named playoff MVP that same year. That also shows that he is a pressure player. One last (and very meaningless) thing to point out, the Reading Royals of the ECHL (Reimer played there for part of ’08-’09_ have turned out some very good players, including underrated Boston Bruin Rich Peverley, Former Capital, now New Jersey Devils 2-way man David Steckel and star LA Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
I have yet to find a single Leaf fan that doesn’t like James Reimer and how could you not? The guy is always smiling and is just so happy. He’s super competitive (He got mad at himself for allowing a late goal while the Leafs were leading 9-2 vs. the Thrashers). This kid has all the makings of a new star between the pipes for a long time to come.