Although James Reimer never left the church, never even considered a life that didn’t include the Lord, he will quite openly admit that he’s “reborn.”
It’s a different approach to the Christian "rebirth" that’s demanded by so many evangelicals, but the goalie in the opposing net in Winnipeg tonight is different in a lot of ways. After all, this is a kid who left a tiny Christian community in rural Manitoba to play junior hockey (his mother didn’t want him to leave home) in Alberta’s Bible Belt, and has since become the goaltender of preference in Canada’s own Sin City.
Of course, Reimer has no problem dealing with sin. That, he says, is a part of life.
“I was a sinner, no matter what, we’re all sinners,” says the Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender, with a knowing smile. “I guess officially, I became a Christian at 7. Kids that are 7 never listen to the pastor and never sit still in church and I didn’t expect that I’d listen to the pastor either. But I did. I don’t know quite what it was, but what I heard from the pastor registered with me.
“Then, at 14, I re-dedicated myself to the church. So with that, I’d say I was born again. But I never left the church. I never questioned my faith. How could you question your faith while living in a wonderful little community filled with people who would never consider questioning their faith.”
It’s been said that James Reimer “came from nowhere to become the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” and that’s true to an extent. Fact is, he came from Morweena, Man. It isn’t “nowhere” but you could see “nowhere,” from the hockey rink in Reimer’s backyard.
It’s a community in Manitoba’s Interlake that claims about 150-200 souls. All of those souls have been committed to God at the Morweena Evangelical Mennonite Church.
“I grew up in a small Christian home in a small Christian community,” Reimer said. “I was very lucky. In my community, everyone was committed to their faith. That meant I didn’t have to grow up being afraid of my faith. I did grow up knowing what church meant. The whole town was like living in one big Bible College.
“I have always been committed to my church and to God. Always.”
He’s also been committed to hockey. In particular, he’s always been a goalie, And he knows that while hockey can have its ups and downs, his faith never waivers. And he’ll tell you without hesitation that it was his faith – both in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his own abilities – that got him to the NHL.
“It was my brother Mark that put me in goal,” Reimer recalled. “The only way I could play with the older kids is if I played goal. It’s funny but I loved it right from the start.”
His parents, Marlene and Harold, soon built a rink in the backyard. Not long after, James begged his mom to let him join his first organized team. Before he knew it he was playing for Brent Sutter and the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League and he seemed to be on his way to the top. But Reimer will be the first to admit that if it were not for his faith, he’d never have come close to the NHL.
“There were some very dark times,” he conceded. “There were times in Red Deer when I never thought I’d be good enough. When I was drafted, I went to the American Hockey League and then all the way down to the East Coast League. If it weren’t for my faith, I never would have been able to find the courage and perseverance to stick to it and believe in myself.”
Now, every time he steps into the Leafs net, he has Jesus Christ with him. Written on his mask is the verse, Matthew 14:31. He lives by it: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
“It’s my story, in a modern way,” he said. “When Peter lost focus on Jesus, things began to go badly for him, but when he focused on the Lord and was confident in his faith then he had the ability to do anything. When Jesus walked on water and asked why did you doubt me, that’s how I feel sometimes. There were a lot of people who did not believe I would ever make it to the NHL but my faith carried me through.
“Now, we all know walking on water is quite amazing, but so is my journey to the NHL. When I kept my focus on Christ and on my game, I was able to overcome the dark times. I think we can all do that.”