Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Monday Oct. 21, 2013 10:22 ET

Carey Price's value still high on Canada's Olympic goalie list

Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price could be No. 1 in Sochi

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Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is making a strong bid to be Canada's No. 1 in Sochi. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

Win or lose, Montreal Canadiens goalkeeper Carey Price is as cool as a cucumber. But even the usually unflappable Price was flustered after his season ended badly last spring.

"When you're winning here there's no better place to play [than in Montreal]," Price said after the Canadiens were eliminated in five games in the first round by the Ottawa Senators.

"But when you're not playing well here it's definitely tough. But it's the only thing I know. I went straight out of junior to here. It's the only type of atmosphere I know. I've learned to accept it."

When four-month lockout finally ended, Price skated out of the gate in fine form. He won 18 of his first 28 starts and had the Habs in top spot in the East after their last-place finish the year before.

But the 2013 season did not end well. He surrendered 31 goals in his final eight outings and went 3-5-0.

Price wasn’t any better in the postseason against the Senators and a groin injury placed him on the sidelines to end the year.

He simply wanted to hide as the final seconds of the season ticked off. But, if you’re a goalie in Montreal, following such legends as Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Charlie Hodge, Gump Worsley, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, you can’t hide.

"That's one thing I miss, just being anonymous," Price said. "It's tough to do that here.

"It's impossible. I don't even go to the grocery store anymore. I hardly do anything anymore. I'm like a hobbit in a hole. I just don't do anything anymore."

Mother was former chief of Ulkatcho First Nation

Price comes from rural Northern British Columbia. He was raised in Anahim Lake, population 700 when combined with the nearby Ulkatcho First Nation, where his mother Lynda was the former chief. The closest organized minor hockey was 320 kilometres away in Williams Lake.

But that didn’t stop Price and his father Jerry, also a goalie and an eighth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1978. They made the 640-kilometre round trip three times a week for practices and games, until Jerry decided to put his pilot's license to use and rent a Piper Cherokee for $13,000 for the rest of the season.

“It was a lawnmower with wings,” Jerry recalled.

The dedication paid dividends. The scouts saw Price as one of the game’s top goaltender prospects. In 2006-07 he broke through. He and Jonathan Toews led Canada to the 2007 world junior title in Sweden. Price was the tourney MVP. He stopped a remarkable 172 of 179 shots in six games.

The Canadiens promoted Price to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs after his junior season in Tri-City concluded. All Price did in his first foray as a pro was lead the Bulldogs to the 2007 Calder Cup championship, in which he won another honour, the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the AHL playoff MVP.

For the most part, the 26-year-old Price has lived up to the high expectations he set for himself because of his achievements as a youngster. But after last season, the Habs set out to help Price get over his disappointment of his finish.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin brought in the goaltender coach from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks, Stephane Waite, who helped fine-tune Corey Crawford into a Stanley Cup-winning netminder.

"I'm not worried at all," Bergevin said. "For sure, even Carey would say there are things he can improve, that he can be better, and I'm 100 per cent behind him. I believe in him. We will support him and we'll help him.

“It's normal in a market like Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver, or even Chicago or Philadelphia. Goaltending's a difficult position, very demanding. So it's normal that a young player feels pressure. We'll do everything we can to make sure he gets through this stage."

Good start

Price has responded well this season. After seven starts, he has gone 4-3-0 with a 2.01 goals against average and .940 save percentage.

“Carey has been playing solid hockey from the start, but right now he’s playing inspired hockey,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “It’s good for him and good for his confidence.

“Right now, Carey is in a good zone. He’s confident. We want him to give us a chance to win games and since the beginning of the year, he’s certainly given us a chance to win.”

Price’s early season play has him as one of the top contenders to snatch the No. 1 role with Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

“It’s wide-open like everybody’s been saying,” he said. “Everybody has an equal opportunity to earn their spot. They’re going to take the guy that’s on top of his game and who they feel gives them the best chance of winning.”

Canadian goalie rankings

Each week we rank the top contenders for the three goaltender spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) – Another perfect week for the Penguin with pads. He beat the Oilers, Flyers and Canucks to improve to 7-0-0 this season.

2. Carey Price (Montreal) – He notched two wins, but was even better in a 35-save loss to Nashville on Saturday.

3. Corey Crawford (Chicago) – After a sluggish start the Stanley Cup champ has gone 3-0-1 in his last four starts.

4. Mike Smith (Phoenix) – He shoots and scores. This capable netminder topped off a decent week with a goal against Detroit. 

5. Jonathan Bernier (Toronto) – Like Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles this season, Bernier surrendered an embarrassing fluky goal in a game against Carolina last week.

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