The Morweena Miracle – By Ty Dilello
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A Google search of Morweena, Manitoba does not tell you much. It is a small Mennonite village just outside of Arborg and about 150 kilometers north of Winnipeg with a population of around 150. It is also home to James Reimer, the very humble goaltender who led a late season charge that almost sent the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Reimer got called up in late January and ended up posting 20 wins in his abbreviated rookie season in the NHL. The last Leafs rookie goalie to put up that number was none other than Felix Potvin in 1992-93.
James Reimer’s road to the NHL is nothing short of a “miracle” on how this farm boy who still goes to church often got to where he is today. Most kids start playing organized hockey at five years old but not in James case. Reimer didn’t start playing organized hockey until he was twelve years old; he was discovered by his agent Ray Petkau when he was 13 years old playing in a 14 and over church tournament in Steinbach, MB. James played so well in the tournament that Ray thought he was 16, 17, and 18 years old and not a thirteen year old kid with braces. Ray was quite surprised that Reimer had only been playing hockey for a year and knew that he had a real talent on his hands. Petkau said that “He was rough around the edges, but he just had a knack for stopping the puck”.
Two years later James was the goalie for the Interlake Lightning AAA team playing out of Teulon, MB and it is when playing for them that James finally got scouted. “I got scouted playing one game,” Reimer said. “We lost 6-0, but they must have had 700 shots. The scouts had no idea who I was, they'd never heard of me before, but one guy saw me play that game and drafted me, just based on the one game.” The one scout who liked what he saw was Carter Sears who at the time was the director or player personnel for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Red Deer ended up picking James in the WHL’s Bantam Draft and Reimer would play three seasons for the franchise and only one of those years he had a record over .500. But his play caught the eye of Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson. So with there 99th overall fourth round pick in the 2006 draft, the Leafs chose James Reimer the “somewhat raw” goalie as Ferguson recalls. During the time of the NHL Entry Draft, Reimer was going through his high school graduation at Morweena Christian High School but he kept tabs on the Draft online and was very excited to that the Leafs picked him as they were his favorite team growing up and fellow Manitoban goalie Ed Belfour who played for the Leafs was his idol. Ray Petkau, who was at the draft brought Reimer his Leafs jersey and cap the very next day and a Graduation/Draft party was held on the Reimer farm.
In Reimer’s first pro season he won a league championship in the ECHL. He then went on to play with the Leafs AHL affiliate team the Toronto Marlies for the better part of two seasons before he would get called up to the big leagues, the Toronto Maple Leafs. On January 1st of 2011, James would get his first NHL start and his in debut he would be the games first star and would make 32 saves in a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. Reimer would continue to win games for the Maple Leafs forcing them to carry 3 goalies and eventually sending Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson to the minors.
As Reimer kept on rolling, Leafs fan would give him the nickname “Optimus Reim” that has stuck with him throughout the year. Reimer’s strong play was a sign of hope for the Leafs as he led them on a late season charge that fell just short of the playoffs. Even though Reimer and his Maple Leafs failed to make the playoffs, he had a 20-10-5 record which was good enough for Team Canada to name him their starting goalie for the World Championships that are currently underway in Slovakia.
Reimer calls his journey to the NHL a “one in a million kind of chance” and rightfully so as he had to leap over some big hurdles to get to where he is today. But all this fame has not changed Reimer one bit. He is quite the nice and humble man and is always having conversations with fans after games. He also recently donated hockey equipment to the hockey rink at his Alma Mater, Morweena Christian High School. And during the All Star break, James came back to Morweena and was seen playing hockey at the outdoor rink with friends and family until 3, 4 in the morning. Hopefully this is all just the beginning for James and hopefully he can have a long and successful career in the NHL, but for now this “Morweena Miracle” is just sitting back and enjoying the ride.
By: Ty Dilello
May 10th 2011
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