MONTREAL - Goaltenders' masks have always been a tableau for personal expression in a team sport where, apart from maybe how a skater tapes his stick, such expression is limited.
In some cases, it's strongly discouraged.
When boxing fan Ray Emery was with the Ottawa Senators, his mask with a likeness of Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, was banned by the club.
"Welcome to Pleasantville," one Senators player muttered.
Antero Niittymaki used to have Al Capone spitting bullets from his machine gun and John Grahame, when he was with the Tampa Bay Lighting, had a couple of professional performers for whom clothes were optional and a brass pole was a tool of the trade.
The images on the mask of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price aren't going to get anyone upset -- if anyone can even identify who they are.
On one side is seven-time world team roping champion Clay O'Brien Cooper and, on the other, his partner, Jake Barnes.
Price ventured seriously into the rodeo world this past summer, joining the B.C. Rodeo Association and competing in the team roping event with paDrtner Virgil Poffenroth.
In the two-man event, one cowboy (the header), is responsible for catching the steer by the horns or the neck and the other (the heeler), must rope the steer's hind feet.
Price, a heeler, and was 18th overall in the standings through late August and was sixth in the rookie of the year standings, earning $990.35.
Good thing he has that hockey thing to fall back on.
Did the rodeo thing come up during his contract negotiations with the Habs in August?
"They didn't mention it at all," Price said, "and I wasn't going to be bring it up."
He said team roping is safer than "riding a motorcycle and safer than skiing, for sure."
His family owns seven horses and Price used three for his events, practising Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, taking 20 runs a night or whatever the horses could handle.
He became a student of the sport and watched a DVD put out by Cooper.
Something caught Price's ear listening to Cooper and it has stuck with him, remembering it Tuesday as he stood in front of his locker showing off his mask and the images of Cooper and Barnes.
"He said, 'I'll never let myself fail from not performing 100%,' " Price said of Cooper.
The goalie realized that practice is what prepares an athlete to deliver that 100%.
Okay, so it's not quite a revelation.
Maybe some maturity on Price's part?
Until this season, practice with the Canadiens, Price admitted Tuesday, was simply something to get through. But Price, elevated to the first-string job for the Canadiens after playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues in June, said he has brought a different attitude this year, thanks to his team roping experience and listening to Cooper.
"It's constantly improving yourself and constantly trying to get better. It's not just breezing through practice, but trying to make myself better," said Price, who said he has been talking more with goaltending coach Pierre Groulx and watching more video. He was out on the ice with Groulx before practice Tuesday.
"I think this year I enjoy practice more. I don't think it as much as a job, but a fun job where I can enjoy it while doing the work."
Okay, so you would just assume that guys in the NHL would, like, get it.
It takes some longer than others.
Some never do.
Price will get his third consecutive start Wednesday night in the Canadiens' home opener against the Tampa Bay Lighting. After hearing jeers from Canadiens fans in the club's first pre-season game, Price has shown great flashes during the first two games, none better than his glove save on Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Habs' 3-2 win Saturday night.
"I said it would be a work in progress," Price said, "and it's going to be a work in progress all year."
In Price's world, apparently, it's no longer a four-letter word.