TORONTO – James Reimer doesn’t know if it was the familiar roads that got him. Maybe it was the countless previous late-night arrivals at Pearson International.
“Just some memories flooding back about coming back after games and what not,” Reimer said Wednesday after practice. “Just a whole wash of different emotions, I guess, just remembering the good times. It was good. It’s fun. It’s cool.”
That Reimer’s return coincided with some uproar around his successor, Frederik Andersen, had to bring about a hint of familiarity, too.
There is nowhere to hide in the Maple Leafs crease.
You won’t find anyone who understands that more intimately than Reimer after a six-year run here which featured a little bit of everything. The key ingredient in his perseverance was an ability to constantly rise above the fray.
“You’ve just got to bury your head in the sand,” said Reimer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Toronto, Florida, San Jose, Vancouver – you name it. It’s one of those things where you just lean on what you believe in and what you think you’re capable of. Everyone’s going to voice their opinion, and everyone’s allowed to do that. People can boo, people can cheer, it’s up to them. It doesn’t really matter.
“You just have to focus on what you can control and how much you believe in yourself.”
Andersen’s self-belief is being tested after allowing at least four goals in four of his first five starts with the Leafs.
It’s obviously very early, but his .851 save percentage this season is well below a career mark of .915.
He surrendered a career-worst seven goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, and indicated the morning after that his ongoing struggles are “mostly mental.”
The message to him during a meeting with the coaches focused on the fact that a goaltender doesn’t just lose his ability after a couple tough outings.
Mike Babcock elected not to pull Andersen during the Lightning game as a sign of solidarity, and plans to start him against the Panthers on Thursday night. He’s not too concerned about the spotlight or the market or the pressure of the goalie’s five-year, $25-million contract getting in the way.
“We play in the greatest hockey market in the world with the most fans and the most media and whether people believe this or not, they’re cheering for you,” said Babcock. “They want you to be great. That’s what you’ve got to get through your head. There’s no witch hunt here at all.
“They want to cheer for you. And if you’re great they’re cheering for you and if not, they want a new guy, it’s that simple. I think that’s fair.”
It was only a year ago that Reimer won the starter’s job back from Jonathan Bernier during Babcock’s first season behind the bench in Toronto. He was then dealt to San Jose at the trade deadline and signed a five-year, $17-million contract in Florida as a free agent.
The Leafs have cycled through numerous No. 1 options over the last decade, but Reimer provided the most stability among a group that includes Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson and Bernier.
The popular 28-year-old from Morweena, Man., is the only one of those men to appear in a playoff game for the Leafs, making 72 total saves in Games 5 and 6 against the Boston Bruins just to get that 2013 first-round series to a Game 7.
Those nights are among his best memories here.
Now the job belongs to someone else.
“I don’t know Andersen too, too well but obviously I think he’s a heck of a goalie,” said Reimer. “I think he’s an elite goaltender and so I’m sure that things will play themselves out and he’ll get back to the puck-stopping that everyone knows he’s capable of.
“It’s one of those things where I think everything will be fine.”
As for himself, Reimer has made two starts as a member of the Panthers and will serve as a backup to Roberto Luongo in his return to Toronto.
Life is moving quickly with his wife, April, now expecting their first child and getting settled in a new home this week. They sold their place in Toronto shortly after the Feb. 27 trade to San Jose, but Reimer still looks back fondly on his experiences in the city.
“It’s a fun market,” he said. “Obviously, as a goalie there’s a lot of pressure on you and a lot of expectations. … One positive is there’s always a buzz and there’s always excitement in the air.”
During times like this, it probably looks a little better from afar.