CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — James Reimer doesn’t see this latest test as pass or fail.
The NHL goalie refuses to live his life that way, and adheres to a core belief that his value is defined not simply by his response to the latest Florida Panthers crisis, but by his preparedness and production over the long haul.
For the second time this season, Reimer is taking over as the Panthers’ main masked man. The job could be his for the foreseeable future following news perennial No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
Panthers head coach Bob Boughner couldn’t nail down a time frame on the duration of Luongo’s absence, but made it clear Reimer will get the bulk of the scheduled starts, beginning tonight when the Winnipeg Jets visit BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Game time is 6:30 p.m. CT.
The Jets (17-7-4) are coming off a 5-1 defeat to the Red Wings on Tuesday in Detroit, while the Panthers (10-13-4) suffered a 5-4 loss in a shootout to the visiting New York Islanders on Monday, the night Luongo was injured. Reimer, who hails from the Interlake hamlet of Morweena (population 125), said he’s ready for the heavier workload, but noted there’s no magic switch he needs to flip to get engaged.
"Throughout my career, there’s been many opportunities and many different scenarios where I’ve played a lot of games. I think not much really changes," said Reimer following a workout Wednesday morning at the team’s practice facility in Coral Springs.
"You try to be consistent every day. You commit to playing your best. You have that belief in yourself and your teammates.
"I love to play hockey, I love to start games, I love to stop pucks. This is a stretch of games where luckily enough I get the opportunity to do that. I could get caught looking 30 games into the future, but at the end of the day it’s just about playing my game," Reimer said.
"You don’t want to get too caught up in it because you don’t know how life can go."
This season, Reimer has been adequate though unspectacular in 14 appearances, posting a 4-6-3 record with an 3.67 goals-against average and .892 save percentage on a young Panthers squad that has had its share of struggles. Six of his starts came in succession in October when Luongo was out with a hand injury. Reimer made at least 30 saves in each of the first four outings, but had a difficult time against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets and was yanked in back-to-back games and replaced by retread Antti Niemi, who has since been waived.
Reimer, just three months shy of his 30th birthday, said the resolve is there and the results will follow.
"You put a healthy amount of fire in belly, for lack of a better word. But there’s no panic," said the former junior star in Red Deer, Alta., and Toronto’s fourth-round draft pick in 2006, who rose through the ranks and played a lot of hockey for the Maple Leafs from 2010-16.
"Personally, I know the kind of goalie I am and can be. You just believe in that and have a confidence in that."
Luongo was placed on the injured reserve list, and goalie Harri Sateri was promoted from Florida’s AHL affiliate in Springfield on Wednesday.
Boughner admitted the organization is beating the bushes for goaltending help for Reimer, who has experienced the pressure of being a starter in the past.
"He’s been in this situation before (in other markets) so he’s a bit hardened and tested in that department. It’s not new territory for him. I think he knows how to react and how to deal with it," said Boughner, in his first season behind the Florida bench. "We’ve had some good talks in the last couple of days, with Reims and with (goalie coach) Robb Tallas and myself, and I think he’s ready to accept the challenge once again. If you watch his practice habits and how hard he works off the ice, you know he’s a pretty dedicated athlete.
"The last time he had to be in this position, there were some ups and some downs. But we weren’t as good then as we are now defensively, so we’re looking to give him good support and Reims will make the saves. All I ask of him — and he knows this — is just to give us a chance to win. If he gives us a chance, we’ll be in every game."
After a frantic six years under the microscope in Toronto and a short stint with the San Jose Sharks, Reimer, who returns to Manitoba a few times during the off-season, said he and his wife April are loving life in southern Florida. The couple has a 10-month-old daughter, Naveah.
He’s in the second year of a five-year, US$17-million contract, with an average annual value of US$3.4 million. A devout Christian, Reimer makes no secret that he feels truly blessed.
"I’m still just a kid at heart. Even playing against guys that I watched before I was in the NHL, guys like Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, it’s still really hard to believe I’m here," he said. "It seems like just yesterday I was playing street hockey with my older brother (Mark) in the back of my dad’s shop. And here I am playing now in the NHL.
"You don’t take that for granted and you just try to work hard and honour the gift that’s been given to you."
The self-proclaimed hockey nerd said he keeps close tabs on the NHL and is duly impressed with the Jets’ ascent in the Western Conference.
In particular, he’s watched with interest the bounce-back season of Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a guy Reimer knows well.
"We worked out in the summer and hung out and had a goalie camp together," Reimer said. "Helly’s got a great head on his shoulders. Last year was really tough and I think a lot of goalies would have crumbled in that scenario, but he really hung in there. I thought he played admirably and learned a lot. And now look at this year, things are clicking for him. I’m happy for him."
Despite being keenly aware of all things NHL, knowing his own squad’s schedule somehow doesn’t quite factor in.
"Is that really when we’re in Winnipeg?" he asked, when reminded the Panthers venture north to Manitoba on Feb. 18. "Oh yeah, it’ll be a balmy -80, probably. "It’s funny, when we came down here I wondered if I was going to miss the seasons, was I going to miss winter. Truth is, not so much."
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