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The mysterious injury of Leafs' goalie James Reimer

An undisclosed injury is keeping Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer out of action. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Brian Snyder/REUTERS

Seven days after James Reimer was clipped on the head, the only thing certain is the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender will not play against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

It is still not clear if Reimer has a concussion or neck injury. The Leafs said initially Reimer suffered whiplash when he was sideswiped by Montreal Canadiens forward Brian Gionta. Then, after Reimer's replacement, Jonas Gustavsson, indicated Reimer had a concussion, Leafs general manager Brian Burke denied this was the case but said he was being treated "for concussion-like symptoms."

Reimer was then placed on the injured-reserve list retroactive to last Saturday, which makes him eligible to come off for Sunday's game in Ottawa against the Senators.

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The situation remained muddled on Friday, as Reimer did not practise with his teammates, although head coach Ron Wilson said he "expects him to be ready" to play Sunday. Wilson said he had no update on the injury and even if one was forthcoming, "I'm not going to share that with you, whatever it happens to be. I'm not obligated to do that."

So it goes in the NHL, which encourages its teams to hide the nature of injuries, all in the name of ensuring opposing players do not target delicate limbs. Reimer, 23, whose health is key to the Leafs' playoff chances, may well know exactly what his injury is but he was not around to share that with reporters.

Wilson said Reimer worked out off the ice. Then again, considering that Reimer's strong character and sincere religious beliefs make it impossible for him to be untruthful to reporters (a practice that is not considered lying by many NHLers), it was probably no accident he was kept out of sight.

Burke insisted Friday the Leafs were not trying to hide anything about Reimer's injury. He said through several e-mail messages that Reimer was not diagnosed with a concussion by the Leaf doctors. However, once again Burke said the goaltender "is being treated for concussion symptoms. The same protocol applies to treating for whiplash."

On Thursday, Burke told Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan that doctors weren't sure if the injury was whiplash or a concussion because some symptoms for both injuries are similar. Leaf centre Matthew Lombardi, Burke said, was able to complete his recovery because doctors determined his remaining symptoms were related to whiplash, not the concussion he suffered.

Paul Echlin, a sports-medicine specialist and concussion expert in London, Ont., is dubious that Reimer's doctors would not know if his injury is to his head or his neck. While the doctor emphasized he cannot comment on Reimer's diagnosis because he did not examine him, he said in general terms it can be determined quickly if a player has sustained a concussion.

The doctor allowed that symptoms for whiplash (a term he dislikes because it's too broad) can "co-exist" with symptoms of a concussion.

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"However, when you evaluate for a concussion at ice level or immediately after the injury, for someone familiar with diagnosing concussions, it's not an easy one but it should be clear right away, concussion or non-concussion," Echlin said. The examiner should be vigilant for a concussion immediately, Echlin said, if the player was down on all fours or taken from the game.

The important question in Reimer's case, Echlin said, was whether he was evaluated for a concussion right after the injury. Reimer finished the first period after he was hit and then said shortly before the second period started he could not continue.

If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, the NHL has a strict protocol that must be followed before he can play again.

In answer to that question, Burke said, "I don't know. And I certainly feel no obligation to find out. He is being treated for concussion symptoms. That's all we are obligated to disclose."

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