1. James Reimer
2. Jonathan Toews
3. Honourable mentions: Desiree Scott, Mark Scheifele, Clara Hughes
Winnipeggers’ favourite athlete is Florida Panthers goaltender James Reimer. The only thing that may be greater than his NHL career is his impact on the area around his hometown, Arborg, Man.
Reimer played for Manitoba’s AAA Interlake Lightning for two years before moving to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Mike Christensen grew up near Reimer in Lundar, Man. He was also a goaltender and eventually played for the Lundar Falcons in Manitoba’s Junior B League. Christensen says Reimer turned a few local heads when he made the WHL, but no one really talked until he made the NHL.
Christensen kept a newspaper article about Reimer “as a reminder that the small town kids could make it somewhere.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Reimer 99th overall in 2006, and Reimer made his debut midway through the 2010-11 season. Reimer has also represented Canada at two World Ice Hockey Championships.
Back at home, Reimer is helping fund a new Arborg program aimed at giving kids a taste of hockey.
For roughly $30, as opposed to around $300 for equipment, parents can enrol children ages four to seven in an eight-week program where they learn hockey skills and love for the game. Children will borrow and return equipment, promising sustainability for new generations of dreamers.
Just before the 2016 trade deadline, the Leafs sent Reimer to the San Jose Sharks. In the off-season, Reimer signed a five-year, $17 million deal with the Panthers.
Reimer is closing in on his 100th NHL victory.
Reimer is giving kids in small towns a chance to fall in love with hockey and a reason to believe their dreams are possible, too.