TORONTO — As former Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer prepared for his first game at Air Canada Centre in almost nine months, he wondered what it would be like in the visitors' dressing room.
"I'm walking in here I have no idea where anything is," Reimer said on Thursday morning. "I'm asking the guys like 'Where's the change room? Where's this? Where's that?' It's a little different, but it's fun to be back."
The 28-year-old returns to Toronto for the first time as an opponent on Thursday night, backing up Roberto Luongo when the Florida Panthers face off against his long-time former team. Reimer played in more than 200 games for the Leafs, leading them to their one and only playoff appearance in the past decade (2013).
"He carried us that year and was unbelievable for us," said centre Tyler Bozak, who played with Reimer throughout his Toronto tenure.
Drafted by the organization in 2006, Reimer played behind some futile Leafs teams, often some of the league's worst defensively. He typically faced a barrage of shots and survived many of the wild lows that plagued the Leafs through years of losing.
"Obviously our team around him sometimes was a little bit chaotic and hectic and he got peppered with a lot of shots, but he was for sure a guy who battled hard," Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk said. "Everyone on the team knew that."
The Manitoba native ranks 10th in Leafs history in wins (85) and games played (207) and 13th in shutouts (11), just behind Felix Potvin.
"Obviously we had our ups and downs and what not, but a lot of good memories and Toronto's a special place to me," said Reimer, who met former teammate Peter Holland for dinner on Wednesday night.
After years of speculation regarding his future in Toronto, the Leafs finally dealt Reimer (an expiring contract) to San Jose ahead of the trade deadline last season. He put up a .938 save percentage in eight games for the Sharks after posting a steady .918 mark in 32 games for the Leafs.
Leaf management groups mostly looked past the former fourth-round pick despite his relative success. Even after his fine showing in a now-infamous seven-game playoff series against Boston in 2013 (.923 save percentage), former GM Dave Nonis acquired Jonathan Bernier in a trade from Los Angeles.
"Everyone over the course of their career is going to go through some ups and downs and in a market like this they're a little bit more magnified," van Riemsdyk said of Reimer. "But the way he was able to handle some of those things and continue to keep on pushing forward and not let it affect his game was pretty impressive to see."
The Leafs had no plans to officially recognize Reimer's return, but it likely he'll draw at least a look on the video-board.
Reimer signed a five-year deal worth US$17 million deal with Florida last summer. The Leafs opted for Frederik Andersen as his replacement, trading for and then signing the 27-year-old for five years and $25 million.
Toronto will get their first look at Seth Griffith on Thursday night, a former Boston Bruins forward prospect who will make his debut on a line with Matt Martin and Ben Smith. The Leafs claimed Griffith off waivers from Boston earlier this month.
"Lots of guys in our league make good on their second and third chances, more so than on their first because the league's that tough and they learn a lot," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who spoke to Bruins coach Claude Julien for intel on the 23-year-old.
Griffith, who posted 24 goals and 77 points in 57 AHL games last season, is also likely to draw some time on the power play. The Wallaceburg, Ont. native grew up a fan of the Mats Sundin-era Leafs.