TORONTO – Spending much of his offseason in the lush province of British Columbia, James Reimer has heard the odd Roberto Luongo rumour.
The chatter means little to the 24-year-old Leafs goaltender.
Refreshed and finally healthy, an upbeat Reimer is intent on reclaiming the starting job in Toronto, anxious to erase the memories of an injury-stained second season.
"That's the goal," Reimer told TSN.ca in a telephone conversation from Toronto. "That's the goal ever since you're three years old, whether you had a great year or a tough year is to go in there and prove that you're the starter. That's what I wanted to do last year and that's what I want to do again this year coming into camp.
"I want to come in and show that I can be the starter and that they need to look nowhere else."
After his most troubling strain last year, Reimer has enjoyed a spotless bill of health so far this offseason. He has remained symptom-free of the cloudiness which plagued nearly all of his sophomore season, limited to a mere 34 games (3.10 goals against average, .900 save percentage). "It's been a pretty clean summer," he said. "I've felt pretty good the whole time and there's been no setbacks. I've been able to work hard every day and nothing to set me back so it's been really good that way."
Any lingering murkiness from his injury woes has been removed.
Doctors have told Reimer that any symptoms he experienced dating back to that season-changing night in Montreal were directly related to trouble in his neck and not a concussion as had been previously thought. "It's nice to know that you're not fragile or anything like that," he said, "it's just a muscle or a nerve thing and as long as you strengthen it it's good to go." Reimer has made a concerted effort toward doing exactly that, strengthening the muscles around his neck to ensure that such an injury does not occur again, that if (and when) he is bumped in the crease, a trip to the IR does not ensue. "...that's something that now if I take care of it and do the proper things in the summer it should never re-occur," he continued. "It's relieving. It's relieving to know that you can take steps to ensure that it'll never happen again."
Focused on remaining healthy in the summer months, time away from the game has offered Reimer some much-needed perspective. He's thought a lot about what he might have done differently under the strain of injury and disappointing performance last season, ultimately taking whatever solace possible in knowledge gained. "Probably perseverance," he responded when questioned on the most impactful lesson of last season. "Or just learning to deal with adversity. Obviously I've had some tough times in my career before, but obviously not with the media surrounding you and all that per se. Just the ability to stay on course and keep trying to play your game and not change anything. That was tested a lot with everything that was swirling around. I think that'll be big for me moving on."
The Leafs goaltending situation remains unsettled at this point in mid-July. President and general manager Brian Burke has expressed a willingness to upgrade the position if possible, also professing confidence in the growth of Reimer and emerging understudy Ben Scrivens, the Marlies best player en route to the Calder Cup Final.
He and Burke have exchanged the odd text this summer with the young goaltender fully in support of whatever direction his boss may turn. Situated in the thriving British Columbia town of Kelowna for much of the offseason, Reimer has heard the Luongo whispers, but has "been able to stay pretty much disconnected from that part of it and just try to focus on what I need to do to get better and play well this next year."
"(Henrik) Lundqvist put it best, 'You can't prepare differently for a game seven as you would for a game one because you can't be putting too much pressure on yourself'," Reimer concluded when questioned on the prospect of redemption. "Obviously when something doesn't go your way and in this case when I feel like I didn't, through injury and the circumstance, didn't have a fair shake at it you want to go out there and prove to everyone, but to yourself as well, that you can play at a high level and you can play as well as you've shown in the past.
"Definitely you feel a little more motivated after a season that you know didn't really meet your expectations."