A decade later, Carey Price proving Canadiens right

By Heather Engel

“MVP! MVP! MVP!”

The chants rained down in the Bell Centre, showering Carey Price following his 43rd win of the season – a season over the course of which the Canadiens goaltender steadily rose to the top of the NHL’s goaltending statistics. And on this night, Price climbed up to the top perch in franchise’s illustrious history for regular season wins.

It was a triumph that earned him a shaving cream pie in the face, courtesy of Alexei Emelin (with some assistance from Andrei Markov).

A win in the Habs’ regular season finale capped off his 2014-15 record at 44-16-6 in 66 games.

“I’m very, very proud of it, obviously,” Price said after his record-breaking night. “I’ve got to thank my teammates for the way they’ve played all season long. This isn’t possible without those guys in front of me.”

Throughout the season, the superlatives were as routine as the saves. The words, the praise came from everyone, everywhere.

“I don’t know what else we can say about him,” Tomas Plekanec said following Price’s career-high ninth shutout and 40th win of the season against the San Jose Sharks in late March.

“He’s the best.”

The regular season numbers proved as much, and on June 24, he capped off a remarkable campaign by hauling in the hardware at the NHL Awards. Already a confirmed co-winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy  – with Chicago’s Corey Crawford – heading into the league’s annual show, Price added the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award to his collection. It marked recognition from every possible angle, with each one selected by a different group of voters (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, general managers, and NHL players, respectively).

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On the path of life, there are inevitable stumbles along the way. Sometimes, all it takes is a quick spread of your arms to regain your balance. Other times, your feet give out and it feels like there are weights on them hindering your ability to get back up.

In eight seasons with the Canadiens, Price has just about been through it all. Ups and downs aplenty, he could have given up. Instead, he grew up.

It was the luck of the draw – literally – that saw the Anahim Lake, B.C., native land in the Canadiens’ lap. With the entirety of the 2004-05 season lost to a lockout, a 30-team lottery determined the draft order in July 2005. One by one, teams learned their fate. It wasn’t until the countdown reached fifth overall that the Canadiens’ logo was pulled from the envelope. At that point, it was the franchise’s first top-five pick since 1984 when they selected Petr Svoboda in the same spot.

It was a curious pick to some at the time, with goaltender Jose Theodore in his prime at age 29 and just three years removed from taking home the Vezina and Hart Trophies.

A highly-touted draft pick, Price arrived in Montreal in the fall of 2007, armed with a World Junior Championship gold medal, a Calder Cup title and AHL playoff MVP trophy. Expectation was that he would continue his apprenticeship with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Now nearly a decade after vice president of player personnel and director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins announced his name, Price has become more than a franchise cornerstone. He has emerged as a leader.

In Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in 2014, it was he who spoke up between the second and third periods. And while sidelined with injury during the Eastern Conference Final, Price took it upon himself to mentor rookie netminder Dustin Tokarski.

When Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien announced the team’s four alternate captains at the start of the 2014-15 season, it was noted that Price, while letter-less, was a part of that leadership group and would be involved in all meetings on that front.

Five years ago, many wondered if there was a future for him in Montreal. Jaroslav Halak had supplanted him as the starter and spurred the Canadiens’ run to the Eastern Conference Final. Price sat on the end of the bench, starting one game and coming in for mop-up duty in three others.

When the players packed up for the summer, Price admitted his slide was tough to take. In the end, it was part of a season of learning and one he acknowledged couldn’t have happened in a better place.

“He’s made tremendous progress in the year and a half that I’ve been there,” then-head coach Jacques Martin said in 2010-11, a day after Price recorded a 30-save, 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers for his seventh shutout of the season. “I think maturity-wise he’s improved; his work ethic has improved; his fitness level is better.

“But probably the biggest change, I think, is maybe his intensity in the game. I think being kind of a laidback individual, he’s been a little more conscious that he needs to be a little more intense.”

That season ended as a career year for Price and remained as such until this year.

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In his early years, Price had a tendency to glance in frustration at his defencemen after a bad goal, regardless of who was at fault. Hal Gill helped rectify that situation and, in the end, was impressed by the resolve of his young teammate.

“After everyone turned on him [in 2009-10] and when Halak was the end all, be all, the best thing ever, I said to Carey, ‘You must be excited to get out of here,’ and he said, ‘No, I really want to make it work.’,” Gill told The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs back in 2012. “He wanted to stay after all that? I don’t know, he was stronger than I would have been. I’d have been, ‘I’m getting out of here, I can’t wait to go somewhere else.’ He was awesome, I liked playing for him.”

These days, the only thing Price throws in his teammates’ direction is praise after every win.

“The guys in front of me did a good job of keeping shots to the outside,” is a staple of the netminder’s post-game scrums. And when the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers for the summer, it was he who shouldered the blame for the team’s elimination.

“Everyone knows it wasn’t true, but it’s a sign of accountability that he shows, and that’s part of being a leader,” Brendan Gallagher said of Price’s claim.

Added Max Pacioretty: “I think deep down he knows that he did what he could to help us win but we didn’t score enough goals. I think it says a lot about his personality but he’s far from the problem.”

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The Canadiens’ core knows full well what their goaltender can do. Veterans Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec have been there since day one. Pacioretty and Subban, among several others, arrived shortly after Price.

For defenseman Jeff Petry, the move from Edmonton to Montreal was like nothing he’d ever known before in his NHL career. Not only would he still need his hockey gear in late April but there was structure and stability: behind the bench, in the front office, and especially between the pipes.

“We only saw [Price] twice a year in Edmonton, but everyone had said he’s a goalie that can win you games solo. He proved that he’s the best goalie, I think, in the league, in the world,” Petry said. “His personality makes everything that much better. He doesn’t have a huge ego or anything like that. He’s a really down to earth guy and, on and off the ice, he’s a guy that you want to be around.”

He is the Habs’ leader, their unnamed, non-lettered captain. And while grateful and appreciative of all the praise and hardware bestowed upon him as he etched his name into the record books, Price would no doubt like to see it alongside other Canadiens greats on the biggest trophy of them all.

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