"Excuse me," Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said after Saturday night's 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills. "I've got to get a long night's sleep. I'm figuring I'll have to face about 20 breakaways in the one period I play tomorrow."
Someone asked him if he felt like a target out there on Superskills Saturday.
"Target?" he shrugged. "More like a victim."
But don't let these couple of defensive comments fool you. This 6-foot-3, 200-pound goaltender from Anahim Lake, B.C., has to deal with the burden of being the No. 1 puckstopper for the famed Les Habitants, where a hot goaltending prospect almost automatically faces comparisons to greats that include Georges Vezina, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.
It is clearly the most famous job on the most famous team in hockey ... and the scrutiny can become stifling to most.
But there's no apprehension in Price's mannerisms or demeanor when you consider his stall in the Canadiens dressing room sits below a photo of Roy, whose eyes are almost gazing down at the young goalie.
"It's not daunting at all," Price said matter of factly. "It's kind of like my way to motivate myself. It's a great job ... if you do it right. And that's what I'm trying to do.
"You can't compare me with Patrick Roy, because I haven't done anything yet."
"Yet" being the operative word.
While Price said he grew up admiring Roy, Martin Brodeur and Curtis Joseph, he said his style is his own.
"I'm a mix of a little butterfly and standup," he added. "I'm big and I take up some room and I try to be in the right position, have the right angle."
Surprisingly, the other two goaltenders on the Eastern Conference All-Star team showed a little of the same thick-skinned confidence at the thought of Roy looking down on the kid.
"I don't know how daunting it would be," Boston's Tim Thomas said. "If I were in that situation, I'd be hoping some of Roy's mojo would drop down on me."
"Don't worry about Carey Price," New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "He's a level-headed kid, obviously schooled in the art of goaltending at a young age where you learn to deflect the pressure and get in that zone where you can focus on important things while filtering out the negatives."
Well-schooled? You bet.
The advantage that Carey had was that he was on skates all the time. Jerry Price, his dad and a former goalie who was a 1978 draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers, was around to show him the right way to do things.
"I do remember having a set of little goalie pads and I would bring my pads and play with him," Carey remembered. "I learned the business from him. He's been my goalie coach as long as I can remember. We used to work on an outdoor rink in Anahim Lake. Pretty cold. We had a chicken wire fence around the outside of the rink. It got to be minus-20 and lower -- and believe me when a puck hits you, you feel it.
"My dad didn't push me. When I was growing up, he always asked me if I wanted to keep playing hockey. I just decided to go in the pipes one day and I've been there ever since."
When asked about his laid-back demeanor, Price explained, "I don't know, I guess it's because I grew up in the middle of nowhere. There's not a lot to get excited about. And I think a lot of it comes from my parents and the way they raised me."
Price was raised in Anahim Lake, B.C., a community in the northern Chilcotin wilderness so tiny it barely rates a dot on most road maps. His mother, Lynda, is serving her second term as chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation there. She is the first woman to serve on the executive of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and believes her son can become an example to native children facing challenges.
There was no organized hockey for Carey until he was 11. But his dad drove long and far to make sure his son would get the right kind of competition to help achieve his dream of playing in goal in the NHL. To that end, Jerry Price once bought a plane to fly Carey to elite-level hockey in Williams Lake, B.C., some 300 miles away.
Maybe that's why Carey is the only person to win honors as the Canadian Hockey League's goalie of the year, was the World Junior Tournament MVP and American Hockey League MVP in the same season -- that coming in 2006-07. Maybe that's why he was the fifth pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. And maybe that's why he displays no pregame rituals, no evident superstitions and no obvious quirks or zaniness like a lot of goaltenders have been famous for.
As a rookie last season, Price posted a 24-12-3 record with a 2.56 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and three shutouts. That body of work let Habs General Manager Bob Gainey know that it was Carey's turn and it would be no problem to deal off Cristobal Huet to Washington at the trading deadline and go with the kid down the stretch and in the playoffs. That was a bold move by Gainey.
But the Stanley Cup Playoffs were a totally different story.
Price led the Canadiens to three wins in their first four games in the first round against the Bruins, including a 1-0 win in Game 4. But Price was up and down for the remainder of the series though he posted another shutout, 5-0, in the clinching Game 7.
"It's not daunting at all. It's kind of like my way to motivate myself. It's a great job ... if you do it right. And that's what I'm trying to do." -- Carey PriceBut in Round 2 against Philadelphia, the rookie learned a hard lesson. The Canadiens won the first game, but the Flyers sent the Habs home with four-straight wins.
After the playoff debacle ...
"I packed away my hockey gear, turned off my cellphone and jumped in my truck and drove west," Price said. "There was a trip to Mexico with friends and a trip home to fish with my dad. Then I got back to work in late June, working out hard with my cousin, Keaton Ellerby."
According to Carey, there was a positive attempt to lose weight to help his quickness and the strength of his core and legs -- which is important to all butterfly-style goaltenders. The weight-loss part of this story came at the suggestion of the Montreal training staff. Price also underwent several weeks of goaltending sessions with Eli Wilson, who runs a summer school for goaltenders that specializes in leg strength and recovery rate.
"The talk around the locker room now is that Carey is no longer enjoying late-night burgers, chocolate bars and other sorts of
junk food," Price said, shaking his head. "That may be an exaggeration. I did work hard and began to eat right. When I reported to training camp I was 28 pounds lighter."
What you may not know about Carey Price is that he's a kid who loves to play video games, play a guitar and relax in the big city of Montreal.
What we do know is that Carey's will and strength of character should get him past all of the ghosts he has faced since coming to La Belle Province.