MONTREAL - Tri-City Americans ownership partner and general manager Bob Tory headed into the 2002 WHL Bantam Draft knowing full well who his top pick would be.
After watching a 14-year-old Carey Price play in Williams Lake, BC, Tory was sold on the young phenom. There was no question in his mind that Price was the goaltender the Americans had been looking for.
But, it remained to be seen if he would still be available when it came time for Tory to step up to the microphone at No. 7.
"We weren't selecting No. 1, but I would've taken him No. 1 if I could've. I sort of downplayed his ability to people when they asked me for comparisons with other goalies. It was like a game of cat and mouse. You want to make sure you get him," explained Tory, on his mindset in the months leading up to the Draft. "That was my guy. I didn't want to let other people know that because other teams could be picking the same way. But, it worked out very well for us, and obviously the rest is history."
It certainly is. In fact, Price was the lone goaltender selected in Round 1 - and Tory couldn't have been happier to secure his services.
"For me, it was an obvious decision. When I saw Carey in Bantam, you could see the natural ability was there - the quickness, the size, the concentration," mentioned Tory, on his prized pick. "I wanted to keep that quiet because I didn't want other teams to know what I was thinking. I was really excited about the possibility of drafting him."
On the ice, Tory fondly recalls Price really asserting himself during the 2004 WHL Playoffs and cementing his spot as the Americans' top goaltender going forward.
"The biggest moment was at 16 when he went in the net against Portland, who was favored to win that first-round series. He basically won that series for us. We beat them 4-1, and it was on his shoulders," praised Tory. "Up until that point, he was splitting the net. He kind of took over in the playoffs and established himself as an elite goalie in the WHL… And, you were comfortable each and every night with him in goal. It gave you a sense of calm, and it helped develop the rest of the team because even though he was a goalie, he was one of the leaders at a very young age."
In Tory's mind, though, the 2004-05 campaign was key to Price's long-term success - not just with the Americans, but on into his NHL career.
It was the NHL lockout year and Tory's business partner - veteran goaltender Olaf Kolzig - spent time with Tri-City working one-on-one with Price.
"He became very close to Carey. He became a mentor. I think Olaf's presence really helped Carey, especially with the mental side of the game," shared Tory. "It gave him someone to reach out to, someone who'd been there and done that at that level. I think it was a bond that was unique and special. That had a lot of to do with accelerating Carey's ability to get to that level as quickly as he did."
Come the 2006-07 season, Price was dominant in between the pipes for the Americans, winning WHL Goaltender of the Year and CHL Goaltender of the Year honors, while helping Team Canada claim gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship and winning Tournament MVP honors as well.
In addition to his on-ice achievements, the way Price went about his business off the ice clearly impressed Tory, too. He credits Price's parents, Jerry and Linda, with raising such a fine human being, noting that 'the apple didn't fall far from the tree'.
"The biggest thing is the quality of the person. I don't think Carey ever had a bad day," described Tory. "He was very intense and took the job seriously, but the way he treated other people, his teammates, and the respect he had for his billets, he was a very humble athlete who worked extremely hard and was very proud."
And, he left behind a legacy in Kennewick, WA that still shines bright today.
"The legacy is that if you're prepared to make the sacrifices, it's going to help you in the future, both as a hockey player and a person," affirmed Tory. "We're also a smaller Major Junior operation, so we're more like a family environment. We feel it's very important for players to give back to the community and are good citizens, and I think Carey helped establish that."
All these years later, Tory still pays very close attention to Price's efforts and takes great pride in his accomplishments.
"I check every game Montreal plays. We're very proud of him," concluded Tory. "What he gave back to this organization continues to this day."