Sometime this past week, Carey Price packed his belongings into his big, black truck and began the long trek home to British Columbia. As he drives further away he’ll begin to put Montreal increasingly behind him, as he allows the soothing sounds of George Strait and Garth Brooks to keep him company on what will be the beginning of three months of reflection and introspection, a time to look back at what has happened to him this past year.
In that respect, Price is no different than many others his age who have put another year of university behind them and are looking forward to a summer free of studies. Of course, Carey Price is different than most twenty year olds. After all, he doesn’t have to look for a summer job, to help pay for his tuition, and unlike many students he’s guaranteed a full time job this fall.
Oh and he’s also considered the foundation of the NHL’s most storied franchise.
For Carey Price it will be a time to put the goalie pads into a temporary storage, a time to enjoy the summer, a time to turn twenty one years old. For the first time in a couple of years it will be a time for relaxation, a time to recharge the batteries, a time to put things in perspective.
“It’s been a lot of fun, but I’m drained,” Price admitted earlier this week to the Gazette’s Dave Stubbs. “The difference between winning and losing is fighting through it,” Price added and then wistfully, “I just wish I could have played better.”
The period of introspection has only begun for Carey Price. Surely, none of us can comprehend the whirlwind the last three months have been for him. He was the toast of Montreal this spring, leading the Canadiens to first overall in the Eastern Conference and a first round playoff victory against the Bruins.
For any 20 year old rookie goaltender it is something to be proud of, but you get the sense that Price is going to spend more time thinking about the second round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
In many ways it was a series that many feel the Habs should have won. After all, the Canadiens out shot the Flyers, out chanced the Flyers, but in the end none of it mattered. On the scoreboard where it does matter, the Flyers were able to beat the Habs in five games.
Simply put, the Flyers were able to bury their chances and the Habs weren’t. In many ways the first round series against the Bruins followed a similar pattern. But in that series Price was the difference between winning and losing. Sadly, in series number two he was also the difference for the wrong reasons.
There was speculation that he was hurt, that his equipment wasn’t right but probably closer to the truth was that the youthful Price was battling a previously unknown foe; fatigue.
“It feels like I’ve been playing for two years straight,’ a tired Price confided to the Gazette.
In many ways he has, in the space of one calendar year Price has donned the jerseys of the Tri-City Americans, the Hamilton Bulldogs, and the Montreal Canadiens, inch back a few months previously and you can add the jersey of Canada at the World Junior Championships.
With the wound of the loss to the Flyers still fresh it’s hard to put into perspective the season Price had. And while many will point to the Flyers series as the one that showcased some of the perceived weaknesses in Price’s game, at some point we should all look back to the end of March and beginning of April, a time that saw Price play every night and help lead the Canadiens to first place in the Eastern Conference, a feat that the team hadn’t achieved since 1989.
During the Canadiens extended spring Price gained the most valuable tool in any young hockey player’s progression: experience. But there is experience on the ice and experience off the ice. Price has now spent a spring in the Montreal fishbowl. A city that this spring got swept up in a Habs fever that hadn’t been seen in many a year, but also a city that has grown impatient for a parade through St. Catherine Street. Price is now aware how one can be a saint one night and a sinner the next, for Montreal is all about what you have done for me tonight, not last night.
As he makes his way home, through the prairies, Price will undoubtedly wonder about what he could have done differently, what he could have done to change the outcome. Undoubtedly, the shock will slowly begin to wear off, the shock of a season that for many, including Price ended too soon.
“I don’t like losing one bit,” Price confessed to the Gazette. “It’s tough to swallow …It feels like we’ve got practice tomorrow. When it ends, it ends in a hurry.”
Losing can be a bitter pill to swallow, just listening to the talk radio this week is proof of that. But losing is a fact of life. Not everybody wins, 29 NHL teams will attest to that come June, but few have as bright a future as Price and the Canadiens.
At the time they were eliminated from the playoffs, the Canadiens were the youngest team left playing. For many it was their first taste of playoff’s and with that comes the realization of what is needed to succeed at that level.
All spring long, Price labored under the expectations created by both Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, legendary Hall of Fame goalies that proceeded Price in the Montreal nets. And while it was mentioned time and time again that both Dryden and Roy won the Cup their rookie year, it wasn’t mentioned that neither of them won it their second year. As a matter of fact it took Roy another six years to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a great goaltender, it just illustrates how tough the Stanley Cup has become to win.
And maybe while he’s sitting out on the porch this summer this is what Price will think of. Having gained first hand experience, he knows that the road to the Stanley Cup is a long and arduous journey, one that requires almost as much mental fortitude as physical aptitude.
But as he looks back at the Philadelphia series and most vividly, game five there is hopefully one thing that he takes with him this summer. With the Habs cruising along in the second period, he surrendered three quick goals, some of the dubious variety that left the Habs behind 4-3.
As the shock of that fourth goal slowly began to sink in you could hear the crowd begin to chant his name … Carey, Carey, Carey … and then even louder … Carey, Carey, Carey … a sign of encouragement, a sign of hope … Carey, Carey, Carey.
It is that chant that I hope brings a smile to Carey Price’s face this summer, as he eagerly awaits this fall, and the restarting of his personal journey.
And that’s the great thing about hockey. What happened this spring doesn’t matter this fall. Every team starts on equal footing, all begin to chase the dream again, and Carey Price after getting a chance to recharge the batteries this summer, will hop back in his black truck, crank out the George Strait and head straight to Montreal. Because starting this fall he gets another chance to fulfill the dreams of the fans and himself.