TORONTO – Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, perhaps somewhat flippantly, called it a headache. But watching Leafs goalie James Reimer go down Thursday night after taking a blow to the head brought back painful memories of something more serious.
Reimer lasted just 32 seconds in goal against the Carolina Hurricanes, the victim of an accidental collision with teammate Josh Leivo. Jonathan Bernier replaced him in the 3-2 Toronto loss.
Reimer was trying to corral a rebound with his stick at the side of the net and didn’t see Leivo, who could not avoid hitting him as he attended to Nathan Gerbe, who was driving at the net. Leivo’s knee caught Reimer’s head as he went by.
The Leafs goalie lay face down and then was tended to by the team trainer as he remained on his knees for some time before skating slowly to the bench. He went straight to the dressing room and did not come back.
“He’s got a headache, he got hit … basically he got run over a little bit by our own player,” Carlyle said when asked about Reimer’s condition after the game.
“The feeling right now is Reimer will be able to practice,” the coach added when asked if the team will have to summon another goalie.
The Leafs play Saturday in Chicago.
It’s not the first time Reimer has suffered a blow to the head.
Two seasons ago, he missed time due to concussion-like symptoms that were later linked to a neck problem. That problem started in October 2011 when he was hit by Montreal’s Brian Gionta as he skated through the crease.
That injury disrupted a season that followed Reimer signing a US$5.4-million, three-year contract in the summer. He began the campaign as the Leafs No. 1, winning four of five games.
Then in the sixth game, he collided with Gionta and was sidelined for more than a month. He also finished the season on the sidelines after taking a shot in practice in late March 2012 and experiencing a return of concussion-like symptoms.
“You’re always concerned when any player gets pulled out of a hockey game due to injury,” Carlyle said Thursday. “There is a history there, so you have to worry about it for sure.”
Bernier gave up the winning goal on a bizarre bounce, a play that seemed to catch the Leafs off guard as play kept going as a result of the new hybrid icing rule.
Varsity Blues goalie Brett Willows was summoned mid-game as an emergency backup. Willows, a Habs fan, is a third-year Blue from Rivers, Man.
Willows did not make it onto the bench but Carlyle said he was dressed in the equipment room, ready to go if needed.
“It was definitely quite the turn of events,” Willows said in a U of T release. “I was out with some of the boys for dinner after practice and my phone went off with a call from coach (Darren Lowe). He told me that one of their goalies went down and that they needed me. I sprinted down Bloor Street in the next 45 seconds and we jumped in the truck and got down there right away.”
A third-year kinesiology major, Willows ranks second in the OUA and third in the CIS with a .930 save percentage in 16 games. He was coming off a career-high 50-save performance in a 7-3 win over the Ryerson Rams on Wednesday night.
Willows previously played for the Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Bernier, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the off-season, and Reimer, the Leafs’ incumbent, have been sharing duties this season, with Toronto coach Randy Carlyle willing to go with the hot hand.
Leivo, who scored his first NHL goal in the second period, said he was unable to elude Reimer.
“I couldn’t turn or anything so I tried jumping over him but my knee caught his head.” he said. “It’s an unfortunate play … I wish it never happened.”
Carlyle’s policy of rotating goalies this season has paid dividends.
Going into Thursday night’s game, the Leafs’ 2.29 goals-against average tied for fifth in the league.
Reimer made 36 saves Tuesday in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild that saw Toronto outshot 37-14.
“You never want to see a guy go down,” said Toronto winger Joffrey Lupul. “That’s a new protocol now—If a guy goes down and stays down like that, he’s coming out of the game. We haven’t been updated on his status. Hopefully he’s fine, just got his bell rung a little bit.”
Bernier said he didn’t know what to think when he saw Reimer go down.
“I didn’t know if he was hurt bad. Randy just told me to warm up.”