|The Canadiens' Carey Price is one of only three rookie goalies in the NHL who have played in at least 10 games.|
Sutter, who coached Team Canada to the World Junior Championships gold medal in 2006, told Price to take a hike prior to the event. He said Price, lauded as Canada’s next great backstop since he was 16-years-old, was neither mature enough, nor playing well enough that winter to deserve a spot on the prestigious roster.
“At that time we had two goaltenders (Devan Dubnyk and Justin Pogge) that were just better than he was,” Sutter said. “In the long run did we think they’d be better? Probably not, but you’re only worried about those three weeks because that’s all you have. The other guys were older, more experienced and a little bit more mature.”
Even Price, now 20-years-old, admits Sutter was right.
Canada won the championship for a second-straight year, and Price went on an immediate hot streak for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League after humbly returning to the team.
He hasn’t cooled off yet.
Last season, Price led the Hamilton Bulldogs to the AHL’s Calder Cup with a 2.06 goals-against average and two shutouts in 22 playoff games. And this season he has, so far, forced Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau into using him extensively.
Price is 7-5-1 with 3.93 GAA this season backing up All-Star Cristobal Huet. He is one of only three rookie goalies in the NHL, including Mike Smith of Dallas and Josh Harding of Minnesota, who have played in at least 10 games.
Unlike Price, though, both Smith and Harding had prior NHL experience.
”He’s got the talent and he’s patient, not nervous at all,” Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov said. “That’s good for the guys. We can feel that.”
Price admits Huet’s presence has helped his adjustment to the NHL. For the first time in a while, the pressure to win every night is off. When Huet’s healthy -- he’s currently out with a groin injury -- Price is strictly a backup.
“He’s an All-Star goalie. He’s been there and my job here is to support him,” Price said of Huet. “I knew if I was going to be here that’s the role that I was going to play. You don’t like sitting on the bench, but I’m here to support ‘Huey’ as much as I can.”
Only recently did Carbonneau play Price in back-to-back games. He brushed aside 43 of 46 shots to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3 in a shootout, Nov. 27. Three nights later he was on the wrong end of a 4-0 loss at New Jersey.
Due to a groin injury to Huet, Price became the Canadiens’ No. 1 last week. He lost to Detroit, 4-1, before stopping 24 of 26 shots Thursday night in a 4-2 win at Boston. Saturday night, Price took the loss against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I can’t get too high and I can’t let my game slide,” Price said. “Both the World Juniors and AHL playoffs were long grinds that required focus throughout, so that was definitely helpful.”
Price, Montreal’s first pick and the fifth-overall selection in the 2005 Entry Draft, was already a household name in the Canadiens dressing room before he had his own stall. After all, it was hard to ignore the daily Price watch in Canada.
“The year he came off last year with World Juniors and the Calder Cup run,” Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek said, “it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Price, though, still had to prove he could stop pucks at the NHL level, which he did right away, earning his first NHL win in his first NHL game on Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh. He stopped 26 of Pittsburgh’s 28 shots, including all six from Sidney Crosby.
Price won again in Pittsburgh 17 days later for his second victory of the season. He has since beaten the Bruins three times, and Toronto twice. He lost to Atlanta, 3-2, in a shootout despite making 31 saves.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence and poise, and he’s really coming,” Komisarek said. “We’re fortunate. Some teams don’t have a solid No. 1, but we have two guys who could probably be a No. 1 on many teams.”
Sutter, though, already knew of Price’s potential even when he sent him packing from Team Canada’s camp. As the coach and general manager of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, he was quite familiar with Price’s growing legend across Western Canada.
“Since he was a 16-year-old in Tri-City he was the franchise, and there was a lot of pressure on him,” Sutter said. “He had his ups and downs.”
But when Sutter returned to Red Deer from his three-week championship run in British Columbia two years ago, he saw a change in Price’s demeanor. There was growth, a definite maturation. The entire Canadian hockey community saw it, too.
“When it happened (not getting selected in 2006) I wasn’t too worried about it because I had another year left,” Price said. “I think it was part of my learning curve.”
Last year, with Craig Hartsburg as Team Canada’s coach at the World Juniors in Sweden, Price not only earned his roster spot, he guided Canada to its third-straight championship by going 6-0 with a 1.14 GAA and two shutouts.
He continued his torrid streak in Hamilton, where he went 15-6 with a 2.06 GAA and two shutouts during the Calder Cup run. His meteoric rise was complete on Oct. 1 when Carbonneau and Montreal General Manager Bob Gainey awarded him a roster spot.
“When he came to World Juniors, like ‘Hartsie’ (Hartsburg) said, he wasn’t the same kid he was at 18,” Sutter said. “Maybe that was a wakeup call for him the year before.”