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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Can I ask you about your last game? 

James Reimer thinks for a second before a smile crosses his face.

"Oh yeah," he said. 

The Carolina Hurricanes goalie last suited up on Feb. 22 in Toronto. He sustained a lower-body injury and then watched as Petr Mrazek also got hurt, paving the way for emergency goalie David Ayres to author one of the unlikeliest wins in National Hockey League history.

"Honestly, it was a crazy game," Reimer said with a chuckle. "It was a crazy night with a lot of confusion and trying to figure out behind the scenes what was going on and what would happen. But, happy for Ayres. It was pretty storybook, pretty special."

There was some discussion about Reimer returning to the game, but that was quickly shot down.  

"It didn't look like that would be the best option given what my injury was," Reimer recalled. "I would've been pretty laboured out there and not able to do too much, but we talked about it a little bit."

Ayres allowed two early goals before settling down to help the Hurricanes earn a big two points and improve their standing in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. 

"We talked a bit in the second intermission, and he mentioned a few things the normal fan probably wouldn't comprehend," Reimer said. "Like how with fans in the building you can't see the puck [as well], it's different than practice and just different things like that. It's the little nuances of it on top of the actual game itself, so it's incredible what he did. I couldn't imagine playing 10 years after I retire." 

Carolina played inspired defence, allowing just 10 shots on Ayres, but the 42-year-old's performance was still legendary. 

"Every team in this league is good, but that team especially can score goals," Reimer pointed out. "They are built for offence, so that's definitely not a game where you want your two goalies to go down. When they score two goals you feel the momentum and you just want to get to the intermission and maybe regroup and see what happens and that's what happened. The boys played hard and battled and it was just one of those games." ​

Reimer has recovered from the injury and figures he only needs a couple on-ice sessions to test it out once the quarantine period is lifted. The 32-year-old is now with his family in Kelowna, B.C., his summer base, waiting out the pandemic. 

Reimer's last game wasn't the only remarkable part of his 10th NHL season. During a lengthy Zoom call on Monday night, Reimer explained how he bounced back from a tough year in Florida, outlined what goes into a Storm Surge celebration, and shared some of his favourite moments as a Maple Leaf. 

The following is an edited transcript of the interview.  

It turned out well for the Hurricanes, but do you think the emergency goalie rule should be changed so it's someone with a bit more experience who is thrust into that spot? 

"That's a tricky question ... I mean, in the last 10 years there's maybe been three instances where a guy could've been used: Chicago [with Scott Foster] and in Toronto and when I was with Toronto and we played in Florida [Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya both got hurt] and Lu came back in that one. I mean, that's three times in 10 years, so what they have in place works ... and, so far, when it’s happened, guys have stepped up and played their hearts out so good for them."   

Covering you during your time with the Leafs, you were constantly optimistic. How are you holding up now as we experience this global pandemic? 

"That's a good question. I don't know. I think just taking stock of everything and hoping everyone's safe and trying to make the most of some forced family fun, as we like to call it."

If the season resumes it will likely be with no fans in the crowd. How will that change the dynamic? 

"Obviously, at the end of the day, we love to play the game and the game itself is fun, but the fans are what make the game. It would definitely not be ideal. It would kind of suck, but given the circumstances, that's probably the best possible situation. So, if people are at home having some entertainment and taking their minds off stuff that would be an awesome thing. The buildings wouldn't be as hot, and you could communicate a lot better because there wouldn't be that noise in the background. One thing that would be unfortunate is the fans really play into the momentum of the game, and playoffs are all about momentum, so I think there'd be an element that would be missing to some extent. We're all competitors and we all want to win, so the overall product would be pretty decent, but fans add so much to it, so it'd be tough to miss them."

What will be the biggest challenge for goalies should the season resume in the middle of the summer? Will it be tougher for goalies than position players? 

"I don't know. I can't speak for forwards. For goalies, though, usually everything takes a little longer, but if you have a good training camp that helps. One thing I would really fight for if it's possible, you never know with these circumstances, but a couple exhibition games would be good for all the guys. The amount of rust on the guys would be crazy, but especially for goalies. A minimum of two exhibition games so each goalie could get one and get in a rhythm, see the puck, get used it, I think would be huge. Because without that you're opening Pandora's Box a little, I think."

If the season resumes, you guys will have defenceman Dougie Hamilton back from a broken leg. What impressed you the most about the season he was putting together? 

"Just in the right spot at the right time defensively and offensively. I know guys, media and coaches, whatever, all talk about his defensive game being greatly improved from last year. Obviously, I didn't play with him last year so I can't make that comparison, but his numbers speak for themselves. He has a great shot and his shots always seem to get through and that's made him so successful, because we always had a pretty good net presence and so if your d-man can find a way to get the puck through and the goalie can’t see it you can take advantage. He was jumping in the play and getting looks and he was burying them. He was always able to find that spot to get a good opportunity. Defensively, same thing. There were so many times when he may have been close to being beat or two-on-ones and he seemed to be in the right spot, so it was a lot of fun playing with him."

Andrei Svechnikov pulled off the lacrosse move a couple times this season. Did he try that on you during practice? 

"He's obviously a really special player and he's only going to get better as he gets older. He does it a lot in practice. It's funny, because as a goalie, whenever guys are fooling around you always chirp them and say, 'Do it in a game! Do it in a game!' And you can't say that to him now, because he's done it twice. So I'll keep my mouth shut." 

How hard is it to stop? 

"Well, he's never scored on me with that in practice. A game is so different than practice, because there's no noise in the building or different distractions in practice and you see the play happening and you're not worried about a pass in front. It's a lot different in a game and your read might be a bit later than normal. But what makes it difficult too is you don't really practice making that save. You look at the second one he scored on [Connor Hellebuyck] and Helley looked like he was there. When I looked at that goal, I don't know how I would've played it any different and somehow it still went in. So, how do you stop it? Hopefully no other guys get any ideas, because I don't want to face that."

 

During the season pause, the Hurricanes are running a Twitter vote on the best Storm Surge. Do you have a favourite from this season?

"We had a couple good ones. The Halloween one was fun. When we had the women's soccer team at the game and they won the [National Women's Soccer League] championship, we had one of their players [Jessica McDonald] involved with the little shootout we had. It's always special when you get people involved who aren’t part of the team." 

You played a prominent role in the sumo wrestling one in January. Do you game plan for that? 

"Not really. Sometimes you talk about it a bit on game day and we try to bounce around a few ideas. Usually you have a general idea before the game, but sometimes they just spring it on you as we're doing the tapping with the goalie and guys are going by saying, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?' And one of the leaders will yell it out, but usually you have an idea." 

Mrazek won the sumo match pushing you down. Had you guys discussed that? 

"Ahh, no comment. We were just having some fun and he took home the W."

What stands out about head coach Rod Brind'Amour? 

"He has pretty high expectations for guys and the way he wants them to play and carry themselves. A lot of coaches have that, but the way he communicates that resonates with the players. He's firm and he's hard when he needs to be, but you know it comes from his heart and he's authentic about it. He doesn't really call guys out specifically too much. He gives you a lot of respect and with that comes a high expectation, so I think he does a really good job of balancing that." 

After a tough season in Florida (13-12-5, .900 save percentage), you bounced back nicely this year with Carolina (14-6-2, .914 save percentage). What are you most proud of about your season? 

"You know, just stopping pucks, having fun, winning games. Obviously, the season before didn't go as well as a team, Florida, as we would've liked, and my stats didn't look as great as I would've liked them to look, so there's always doubts from different people and what not. I believed in myself and knew I could stop pucks and so I had a really good summer and really fine-tuned a few things – probably more mentally than really anything else. We made strides physically, too. And then just kind of took a structured, hard, but relaxed approach to playing games and it worked out."  

Monday was actually the seven-year anniversary of you guys clinching a playoff spot in that lockout-shortened season in Toronto. When you think back to your time with the Leafs, what are your top memories?

"I hope you don't want to talk about the anniversary coming up in two weeks or whenever that [Game 7] was. Obviously, clinching the playoffs was a lot of fun that year. It was one of those years where no one thought we'd be in the playoffs or win many games, so we kind of gelled as a group and came together and proved everyone wrong every night and every game. So, that was a really fun year. I think back to my first game. And even my last year with [Mike] Babcock, it was a fun year for me. I got to play. I always said it's a lot of fun to play in Toronto, especially if you're playing well. Those are some of the special memories."