Florida Panthers’ goaltender James Reimer very well may be the ultimate good guy.
No matter the situation, his face is always laced with a smile, and his words come across in the humblest of manners. Although he’s certainly found himself in some difficult situations in his professional sporting career thus far (Game Seven Toronto/Boston 2013 for instance), the 30-year-old netminder knows that there is much more to life than hockey.
Although that may take a moment or two for the ultimate hockey fan to comprehend, if Reimer — a true student of the game, and a 10-year professional — can say it, it’s true for even the most hard-nosed, television-watching, flag-waving, season ticket-holding, tattoo-bearing fanatics. Hockey is not life.
So what then would life be, James?
“I think it all starts with a good foundation,” Reimer said. “For me, the foundation begins with my faith and my belief in Christ — what He did for us. I can stand on that foundation, and life kind of flows from there. Luckily for me, my parents did a great job of instilling that.”
Reimer, a native of Morweena — grew up in quite possibly one of the smallest towns in Manitoba. Situated roughly an hour-and-a-half northwest of Winnipeg, Morweena is currently home to approximately 150 people. But it isn’t just any 150 people, it’s one of the tightest-knit communities around.
“I was lucky to grow up in a Christian neighbourhood, where that was a big thing,” the 6-foot-2, 220-pound netminder reflected. “I was so very fortunate to have that, and kind of go on with life from there. The funny thing is, no matter where you go, or where you end up, you always have that. Whether tough times come, you always come back, or if you go astray, you will always have that foundation — that place where you can come back to.”
Although playing the role of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11) would be exceptionally difficult and highly unlikely for Reimer at this point in his life, there certainly are days in which things just don’t go according to plan, and life gets messy.
“For me, it is in those circumstances in which I turn to the scripture,” the current Florida resident said. “There are a lot of verses, and some of them are even on my mask. I think my favourite comes from Matthew 14:31, where Peter is walking on the water and sees the waves and starts to sink and Jesus pulls him out. To me, I think it speaks to our pressure-filled lives, as sometimes you start thinking about situations and circumstances, and you start looking toward the wrong things. So, I think that verse kind of slaps you back into reality.”
One of the most difficult moments of Reimer’s hockey career came back in the spring of 2013 when together with the Maple Leafs, who were the losers in one of the most monumental game seven collapses in NHL history. After losing their 4-1 mid-third period lead, Toronto fell 5-4 in overtime to the Boston Bruins — the eventual 2013 Stanley Cup runner-ups.
As is the case in many situations, losses in team sports typically tend to be placed solely on the shoulders of the losing team’s goaltender. Even though it should not have been the case in 2013, Reimer was handed the blame by many across the sporting world. What’s worse, significantly worse, was the fact that due to James’ lack of an online Twitter account, his wife April, was the recipient of some exceptionally disturbing cyberbullying.
“I had 300 death threats in one night because James lost a game,” April Reimer said in a presentation to high school students about bullying in early 2016. “It’s okay for people to have an opinion about a professional athlete. They can say he’s a bad goalie. But when it gets hurtful, hateful or harmful, that’s not acceptable.”
“She was strong, she was one heck of a lady through all that,” James Reimer said of the way April handled the bullying situation. “Obviously, we both have similar beliefs, so that was a foundation for her. When that is your focus, you know it helps to not get too caught up in whatever things are going on. She also has a great family and support system around her. You know it’s just one of those ‘it is what it is’ kind of things, and you get through it. And like she did, you make something positive out of it.”
It has now been a handful of years since the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things are looking significantly different for the Reimer family. James is now a three-team, eight-year NHL veteran making $3.4 million for the next three seasons. He and April are currently living in Florida, while thoroughly delighting in the many joys of parenthood.
“In all honesty, I really don’t know what I’m doing half the time,” Reimer said of being a new father. “I just hope I don’t screw up! No, no, it has been fun. I know that my parents were great; they were calm, they were patient, they were firm. But more than anything, they loved me. So if I can be half as good as they were, I think our child will be alright.”
CARTER BROOKS is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On top of reading and writing, coaching hockey is his favourite pastime. Carter can be reached at [email protected]
Photo credit Will Borys.