Pressure: The Price of being Habs' goalie

Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, practices with his team at Teen Ranch, just...

Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, practices with his team at Teen Ranch, just outside of Orangeville, on Tuesday. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

CALEDON, Ont. — When Carey Price was blindfolded along with his teammates as part of the Montreal Canadiens’ team-building exercises here in the picturesque Caledon Hills earlier this week, perhaps he should have requested a final cigarette as well.

Isn’t that what a proud man asks for prior to being executed?

Let’s not mince words here: Once the golden boy of the Canadiens, Price underwent a thorough character assassination after his play crumbled through the second half of last season.

With unconfirmed rumours swirling about his alleged off-ice activities, Price hit rock bottom midway through Game 4 of the Habs’ first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Bruins, a series in which the Canadiens were swept.

Having just received the Bronx cheer from the hometown Bell Centre crowd for making an easy save, Price responded by mockingly waving his arms in the air. Price said it was his way of telling fans that “booing doesn’t always help.”

The gesture to the boo-birds was similar to the one the legendary Patrick Roy made on Dec. 2, 1995. On that night, Roy, having been razzed by the crowd for giving up nine goals, told Canadiens officials he never would play for them again.

“I didn’t really reflect on what happened other than the two days (after the incident),” Price said yesterday. “I was in Montreal for about a day and a half afterwards, then I left the city. Once I left I didn’t think about it again.”

A guy can do that when he spends part of the summer in the hinterland that is interior B.C., an isolated setting far removed from the talk shows of Montreal.

Whatever his motivation, Price made a poor decision when he took on the rabid Habs faithful with his taunting actions. It was a bad call.

At the same time, Habs Nation should have cut Price some slack.

Here was a kid who, thanks to some early success during his rookie season of 2007-08, was unfairly being compared to former Habs Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, two goalies who each led their respective Montreal teams to Stanley Cups in their first seasons. No matter how many times he insisted that he was neither Dryden nor Roy, Montrealers portrayed him as a saviour.

As a result, his fall from grace came quickly. When the Habs bowed out to the Bruins in the first round, it was official: The team’s 100th-anniversary season had ended with a humiliating “plop.”

Price became a natural scapegoat. Banged up both physically and emotionally, his play had disintegrated down the stretch. When that happens, the goalie usually gets blamed.

But did everyone suddenly forget he was just a 21-year-old kid at the time? For someone so young, it was a lot to take in.

Such is life in the hockey fishbowl of Montreal.

“I think guys learn a lot in that setting,” Price admitted. “I think I’ve learned more in the last two years than maybe I would have learned in 10 years in a non-hockey market.”

Price hopes time heals all wounds, especially those between himself and the fans.

“I think (the mood) is pretty good right now,” he said. “Every­body was frustrated at the end of last year. Now every­body is looking forward to the new season.”

That new season begins tomorrow against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

To prepare for that game, the Habs have come here to Teen Ranch for some team bonding exercises. The blindfold adventure included being led by a rope by other Canadiens players and/or staff members over and around obstacles, a drill aimed at teaching guys to trust their teammates.

Should he get off to a hot start, it’s a good bet Price will regain the trust of those same fans who booed him in April.

If not, well, no one wants history to repeat itself.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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