Remember when you were twenty years old?
Looking back you kind of felt that you were entering adult territory. Sure you still tried desperately to keep your foot in the door of your teenage years, but with each passing day that was becoming harder and harder to do. For many of us twenty marked the start of our independence from our parents, but also the onset of adulthood, and for most of us a greater share of responsibility
At the age of twenty some of us were in the middle of our college/university years, while for others it was our initial foray into the job market. Sure you had some part time jobs in high school, but now you had a real job, that paid you full time money and required to get up every morning.
I guess that many of us the age of twenty meant the onset of accountability, maybe you had to start worrying about others besides yourself.
With all that being said, there wasn’t a twenty year old amongst us more accountable than Carey Price currently is. After all, none of us are in a position where we hold the hopes and dreams of an entire city and hockey’s most rabid fan base all within our hands. Because Carey Price is shouldering a burden none of us can imagine, the burden of expectation.
To say that Montreal has gone hockey mad recently is an understatement. Such noted observers like long time Habs broadcaster, Dick Irvin can’t recall the city ever being quite so caught up in hockey fever as it is right now. In a city with the hockey history of Montreal this is a bold statement, but such is the feeling when a team that has been at best mediocre for the past decade and a half, surprisingly finishes in first place.
Canadiens fans starved for their first Stanley Cup in fifteen years have brought a renewed fervor to the game. One can see it in the streets, the sense of celebration, the feeling that this year may be the year there’s another parade. One can see it in the arena, a place that has seen more losing than winning, a place that not only holds the most fans in the league, but also the loudest supporters, creating an atmosphere likened to the Roman Coliseum by many of the opposition players.
Standing right in the middle of it is a twenty year old kid from a small remote town in British Columbia. He is the heir to one of sports greatest traditions, one of the most hallowed positions as the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. If the Canadiens, the most successful franchise in hockey history by far are mostly remembered for players of exquisite skill and determination, men named Morenz, Richard, Beliveau, Lafleur, and countless more, it is the goaltenders that have been the backbone of their continued success.
To be the goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens, one has to first overcome the enormous shadow cast by those who came before. The names read like a history of excellence and achievement at the position. Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, all Stanley Cup champions, all considered amongst the best goaltenders of all time, all residing permanently in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
As if that is not pressure enough for the young Price, the belief that the Canadiens are Stanley Cup contenders this year rests on his young shoulders. For a young man, that is still trying to make the step from peach fuzz to a playoff beard it is a huge responsibility and an awesome task.
It is not however, a responsibility that Price shies away from, even if this boy wonder is still somewhat of a mystery, to the fans, the media, and to even some of his teammates.
Obviously Carey Price is not your average twenty year old. He is quiet by nature and in many ways a still unknown character. Despite all that has been written about him over the last couple of months we still know very little about the man. Sure we know the professional player very well, how couldn’t we? After all, his name and picture seem to be in the headlines every day. But the real person, the man behind the mask is still somewhat elusive to us. That’s not to say that he isn’t accommodating, it’s just that his level of excitement, his calmness and coolness are unlike many other young men of his age, while many of his other qualities are still well hidden in an age when self promotion and boasting are the norm.
Up until last Thursday, Price was the toast of Montreal, the wonder kid who could do nothing wrong, the saviour who could lead the Canadiens to the promised land. With the Canadiens leading the Boston Bruins 3 games to 1 in their first round playoff series things were proceeding according to plan. The Canadiens, winners of the Eastern Conference were one win away from eliminating the Bruins, a team that they had defeated a remarkable fourteen of the last fifteen times they had faced off.
In Montreal, where everything present is measured by what has come before, column after column was written comparing Price to both Dryden and Roy, both who in the rookie seasons had led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. The plaudits were plentiful and overflowing. Journalists rushed to create new words to describe Price and his play. Suddenly, the rookie goalie playing on the team with the most hallowed tradition had become the story.
Over the space of the last two games, there have been some cracks that have begun to show on the Carey Price phenomenon however. Two games, two losses to the Bruins, five goals against in each game and as quickly as Price had been built up by many, those same pundits now began tearing him down.
All of this because over the course of two games, 120 minutes of hockey, Carey Price didn’t look or play amazing, wasn’t brilliant, but most of all and above all because he lost.
Many will tell you that the pressure to win in Montreal is immense. In many ways it makes it the most rewarding city to play hockey in but it can also make playing there a miserable experience that is when the Canadiens don’t win.
Expectations leading into the Boston series were set very high, almost too high in retrospect. Expected to walk all over the Bruins, many predicted that the Canadiens would win the series in four or five games. After game four this scenario seemed to be playing out. However, the losses in the last two games have led to a winner take all game seven on Monday night in Montreal, the thought of which does not rest comfortably with those who follow the team.
Undoubtedly, it will be the biggest game of Carey Price’s career up to this point. Four days ago he could have been named King of Montreal, but now heading into tomorrow night there is a sense of doubt about both him and the Canadiens.
Such is the nature of the goaltender’s existence in Montreal, one minute a hero, that can quickly be forgotten when they treat you like a zero. For if there is one thing tantamount in Montreal it is winning, and when you finish in first place, a loss to the team that finished in eighth place is unacceptable, especially when your supporters harbour dreams of competing for the Stanley Cup.
Now granted the losses in the last two games have not been entirely Price’s fault. The fact that the league’s best regular season power play has now been reduced to the playoffs worst is one of the many culprits. Many players on the team who had fantastic regular seasons have so far pulled disappearing acts in the playoffs. The head coach in his first playoff round has been outsmarted by his Boston counterpart. The team itself has been guilty of not playing up to its potential with a spotty work ethic amongst other issues.
Despite all of this the blame for the Canadiens recent predicament has for many all been placed at the foot of Carey Price. And while it may not be fair, or even accurate, it is the burden that must be accepted by each and every Montreal net minder.
The last couple of days, spurned by the two losses have seen many in the media start to abandon the Price bandwagon. The Hockey News wondered aloud today if he should even start in game seven. That’s a far cry from four days ago when he was considered the second coming of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.
Such is the role of the media, build up a star and the minute things go south break him down. In today’s world of the internet, 24 hours sports reels on the television and on the radio, everything is analyzed and written about ad nauseum.
Clearly, one of the most commented on, written about and spoken issues revolving around Price over the past few months is the comparisons with Dryden and Roy. And while all three share the experience of being rookie goaltenders playing for the Montreal Canadiens, the likeness ends there.
Sure you say both Dryden and Roy won the Conn Smythe trophy and the Stanley Cup in their first year. And while Price may do that yet, there is something different about his year already that the other two didn’t have to face; the weight of expectation.
In 1971 Ken Dryden was a virtual unknown when he joined the Canadiens that spring. After playing in only six regular season games (and winning them all), Dryden was put in the Canadiens goal for their playoff series against the Bruins. Montreal, massive underdog’s according to the prognosticators crafted one of the greatest upsets in hockey history, beating the defending champion Bruins in seven games.
Ironically, in that series against the Bruins, Dryden gave up five goals at home in a game four loss and seven goals in a game five defeat. Despite this the Habs brass stuck with him in the net and their patience was rewarded. Interestingly, the Canadiens were also heavy underdogs in the finals against the Chicago Black Hawks before pulling the upset victory in seven games.
Unlike Price, Dryden didn’t have to deal with a huge level of expectation, simply because nobody envisioned the Canadiens of Dryden for that matter doing what they did. Another quick difference between the two, after six games Dryden had surrendered 24 goals to the Bruins in that legendary series. Price in this current series has given up 15. However, in 1971 the Habs had managed 24 goals, whereas this year they’ve only scored 14.
Funny, how the goalie can look so much better when the team in front of him can score a few goals.
Similarly, Roy’s run to the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe was entirely unexpected. Roy’s rookie season had not been particularly noteworthy (and certainly not as good as Price’s this year) when the playoffs started in 1986. As a matter of fact there were some who were surprised by the choice of Roy as the Canadiens starting goalie.
To his credit Roy took the ball and ran with it, but he didn’t start to receive much media attention until the Calgary Flames pulled off their shocking upset of the defending champion Edmonton Oilers. It was only after Roy’s star making performance in game three of the Wales finals against the New York Rangers that people started to take notice. In looking back at the tapes, one can see that the Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck was clearly held in higher esteem than Roy (he would after all capture the Vezina trophy that year). It was only when Roy outplayed him, specifically in game three that the Roy legend began.
Well before he played a game for the Canadiens, much was expected of Carey Price. And as his accomplishments grew, World Junior Gold and most valuable player, Canadian Junior Goalie of the year, Calder Cup and most valuable player, so did the expectations.
Not only was this the Canadiens goalie of the future, but the goalie of future. The Hockey News, the same magazine that calls for his benching tomorrow night, held him as the best prospect in hockey a month ago.
Soon the question became not if Price would win the Vezina trophy and the Stanley Cup but when, before mushrooming into how much.
We live in a world today based on instant gratification, where what was great yesterday is passé today, where what was once trendy is now unfashionable. Sadly, this has carried over into our evaluation of players and our expectations of them. Quite often we expect too much too soon.
After all it took Wayne Gretzky five years to win a Stanley Cup, Mario Lemieux seven, Steve Yzerman eleven …
Drafted five spots ahead of Price in the draft a couple of years ago was a young gentlemen named Sidney Crosby, a man the same age as Price, also carrying a heavy if somewhat different burden. When the Penguins lose you never see anyone advocating his benching, or that a singular loss is entirely his fault. When the Penguins were defeated in the first round of the playoffs last year, no one suggested that Crosby was anything less of a hockey player.
Tomorrow night Carey Price will step into the nets as the Montreal Canadiens goaltender in a win or go home situation. He’s faced similar obstacles on the ice before. It’s important to remember that he will again, that no matter what happens tomorrow night he will still have the promising future he had four days ago.
So why do we hold Carey Price to a higher standard? Why does he carry such a larger burden than the league’s predominant player?
Such is the pressure of playing goal for the Montreal Canadiens.