I don’t like the Canadiens. More specifically, I don’t like their fans. (Not YOU of course. You’re awesome.) So, that’s where we’re starting from.
I do like goalies, however, and Carey Price is one of those, so he slips through the insidious cracks of “typical Montreal” obnoxiousness.
Still, his affiliation with a team I dislike has kept him at arm’s length, meaning I’ve watched his career somewhat clinically, more as a student of the position.
And few players provide such an interesting study in the mental challenges of pro hockey – in balancing swagger and ego with professionalism.
So, as we sit here on the cusp of Price’s third NHL All-Star Game, I thought it would be fun to look back at his roller coaster of a career that’s gone from Jesus Price to trade bait back to All-Star again.
The first time I remember giving much thought to Price was the Habs playoff run in 2008 where the announcers declared his level of play “nonchalant” on just about every other shot on goal. Mr. C (a part-time Habs fan, by the way) still says, “Hey, Nonchalant!” whenever he catches part of a Montreal game I’m watching on TV.
This was before I knew much about goaltending or NHL announcers, so I tried to convince myself his style was worthy of the tsk-tsking.
It didn’t work. I love me a goalie who looks like he doesn’t give a shit until, WHOA NELLY IT’S TIME TO GIVE A SHIT BECAUSE THAT PUCK IS RIGHT THERE!!
Something about that is so rebellious and thrilling (but wasn’t so thrilling to my own coaches and teammates when I mimicked it as a newbie goalie myself. Apparently it only works for tall, quick, professional goalies, not short, unathletic writers-pretending-to-be-goalies. Dang it.)
Carey and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Season
The next season, nit-picking about his playing style gave way to (seemingly) legitimate worry. His sophomore season was full of hand-wringing and second-guessing. He was dubbed “the loneliest man in sports” by ESPN (The Magazine). Lonelier than football kickers? Oh dear.
Is he partying too much? Is the pressure of being le guardien in Montreal too much for the youngster from small-town British Columbia?
My second distinct recollection of Price’s career was after a game where he was terrible in early 2009, not long after the interview above. He took the post-game interview like a man, but was choking back tears, nearly speechless. He was frustrated, not having an ounce of fun, and getting second-guessed on all sides by fans and the media and probably in his own mind.
Kelly Hrudey was on HNIC that weekend talking about Price with all the sympathy of a loving father, and when goalies-turned-media are getting out the pity party hats, that sends up red flags. Normally it’s all, “pull yourself together, young man” but Hrudey had the kid gloves on.
The season ended with Habs fans taunting Price, Price taunting them back and then this heartfelt press conference after they were swept in the first round of the playoffs:
Halak vs Price
The following season, “backup” Jaroslav Halak was getting more games (and ultimately did finish with 4 more games on the season) and, as grating, loudmouth agent Allan Walsh “innocently” pointed out in early November of that season, he was earning them with stellar numbers.
The season ends with Montreal needing to make a decision: Keep Halak or keep Price, but you can’t have two #1 goalies.
I remember thinking at the time that it was a tough decision but that Halak was maybe a better fit with his less demonstrative personality. Maybe a change of scenery would benefit Price, I thought. Get him out of that den of jackals.
Of course, we all know now that the Canadiens stuck by their goalie, sent Halak happily on his way (and waved a completely tear-free hankie in Walsh’s direction), and signed non-threatening Alex Auld as his backup for the next season.
Oui Loved You All Along, Carey
Everything happens for a reason, and I think Price’s “bad year” HAD to happen. He simply could not live up to the Jesus Price expectations. He could not stay on that pedestal. It wouldn’t have been good for him or those who had anointed him savior.
The Halak controversy needed to happen, too. By the Canadiens having to make that choice, and by choosing Price, it said to Habs Nation, “He is ours, warts and all. Embrace it.” And they did.
There’s something about suffering through something together and coming out the other side in one piece that forms a better union. Shit getting real is always a grounding influence, and shit got really real for a while there between Price and Habs fans.
But you watch Price now, especially this All-Star weekend: Playful, relaxed, charming and seemingly enjoying his station in life.
He’s spectacular and real and still nonchalant and funny and handsome. And he is theirs –those ole’ ole’ing bastards—and it’s a perfect imperfect match.