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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer sits on the bench after being pulled during third period NHL hockey action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto Monday, March 14, 2011. The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 6-2. (Darren Calabrese)
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer sits on the bench after being pulled during third period NHL hockey action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto Monday, March 14, 2011. The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 6-2. (Darren Calabrese)

JEFF BLAIR

Reimer story is far from finished Add to ...

There is reason to worry about James Reimer only if you buy into the notion that he is little more than lightning in a bottle, destined to be another manifestation of the Toronto Maple Leafs' chronic inability to draft and develop their own goaltender.

This is what development looks like, replete with concern that the second time through is enough for opponents to have taken the measure of him. What's the worry? This season is working out better than most observers imagined: a playoff tease and a chance to see how the kids respond in meaningful games, more so the case now that Nazem Kadri has been called up.

They won't all pan out, because it doesn't happen that way. But with Jean-Sébastien Giguère scheduled to start Wednesday night's crucial game at the RBC Center against the Carolina Hurricanes, it is wise to stress that the only thing really blown out these past couple of days were the candles on Reimer's 23rd birthday cake.

If it is faith you need, then focus on how Reimer came to be a member of the Maple Leafs. All that talk about coming from a small town in the Interlake region of Manitoba - the narrative perhaps best summed up in an interview a few years back with the Winnipeg Sun in which Reimer joked about growing up with "Peasant Vision" (rabbit ear antenna) instead of cable TV - and coming up from the bowels of the ECHL does not entirely do justice to his story.

"He was graded as one of the top goalies in his age group coming out of Manitoba," Leafs scout Garth Malarchuk said. "What happened in junior is he was on a team [the Red Deer Rebels]that was rebuilding, and there were a lot of games where he faced a lot of shots. Some got by him and his play was inconsistent at times, but we got lucky with him because we saw his good games after Christmas."

The Leafs had four sets of eyes scout Reimer in 2005-06 - amateur scouting director Dave Morrison, chief scout Barry Trapp and former NHL goalie Mike Palmateer in addition to Malarchuk. "We all got what you would call good viewings," Malarchuk said. Beyond that, it was testimony from the Rebels' long-time trainer, Dave (Radar) Horning, that led the Leafs to keep him in mind when they traded down for an extra fourth-round pick after two third-round picks they'd eyed were snapped up. Reimer went 99th overall.

"We did a lot of work on the kid - spoke to people who coached him before junior - and that's what stood out most to me - the trainer's words," Malarchuk said. "I mean, he pounded the table on this kid."

Horning saw first hand how Cam Ward, the first-round pick who as a rookie went all Patrick Roy on everyone and backstopped the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, went about his business with the Rebels. He told Malarchuk he saw, in Reimer, "the same makeup and character."

Look, Reimer's glove-hand was an issue long before Tuesday night's defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Shoot high was the message opposing teams carried into the game. What has also emerged is Reimer's ham-handed puck-handling tendencies, which when Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda are on the ice makes it seem as if the Leafs have a de facto Bermuda Triangle at work in their own end - you know, an area where dreams of victory go to die.

But this is what the 2010-11 season was supposed to be all about. Reimer has likely helped save head coach Ron Wilson's job - or at least removed it as a flashpoint - and has helped the Leafs playing meaningful games and now that it's a little pear-shaped, Malarchuk thinks back to some of those tough games Reimer played in with a bad Rebels team. "Mostly," he says, "I remember how he just never gave up on the play.

"So even though this has happened awfully quickly," Malarchuk added, "it really wasn't the case of a guy coming out of nowhere."

The story is far from finished. It might turn into a referendum yet on Leafs goalie coach François Allaire, but it's far from done.

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