MONTREAL -- Coach Mike Babcock told the hosts of "Hockey Central" on Sportsnet radio Tuesday he planned to use a different goalie in Canada's first two games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Feb. 13 against Norway and Feb. 14 against Austria. It's expected those two goalies will be the Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo and the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price.
It just so happens Price and Luongo will face each other Thursday when the Canadiens host the Canucks in each team's penultimate game before the Olympic break. It's a juicy storyline, but you wouldn't have known that talking to Price after Canadiens practice Wednesday.
As the Canadiens prepare to face the Canucks, goalie Carey Price has his sights set on getting a win and not on the goalie battle with Roberto Luongo, his soon-to-be teammate with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Photo: Francois Lacasse/NHLI, Getty Images)
"Like I've been saying this whole time, until I leave here my focus doesn't change," Price said. "It doesn't matter who I'm playing [Thursday], my approach is still the same. That (who plays when at the Olympics) will be decided once we get there. I don't know who those two goalies will be yet. I'm sure they have a pretty good idea of how things are going to go but that's obviously not our decision to make."
Since Price and Luongo were named to the Canadian team Jan. 7, and even before that, the always calm and focused Price has kept a strict mantra of not looking ahead to Sochi and staying focused on his duties with the Canadiens, who are battling to maintain a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference standings.
"We're not teammates yet," Price said when asked if there was extra meaning to the game Thursday at Bell Centre. "We're both trying to do our job for our team. I knew that [question] was coming but that's exactly what it is. Our two teams are trying to gain points and make a push for the playoffs. There's no other tangibles involved and we're both focused on a single goal and that's to get a win [Thursday]."
Those may not have been the answers to Olympic-themed questions the throng of reporters surrounding Price at his locker-room stall desired, but it's that calm, zoned-in approach he and Luongo possess that will be crucial for Canada's chances for gold in Sochi. Montreal coach Michel Therrien said following practice it's why Price has been able to elevate his game to a higher level.
"Both goalies play in a demanding market and Carey has matured in that," Therrien said. "He has grown up as a player and a leader in this. There's no doubt he's faced the pressure as a young goalie and always faced tough situations like this. But we're extremely pleased with the way Carey Price has played for us and how he’s brought his game to another level.
"It's the same thing with Roberto Luongo. But he's got a little bit more experience and he's an older guy. He's a good goaltender. One thing that I know is Team Canada will do really well with Price and Luongo representing them."
Price veered from Olympic questions as much as he could but was willing to praise the goalie he'll likely battle with for the No. 1 spot with Canada. As Therrien alluded to, Price and Luongo play in two of the biggest hockey markets in the NHL and maybe the world, and each has handled himself professionally. Price praised his counterpart and soon-to-be teammate for doing just that over what had been a tumultuous past three years in Vancouver.
"[Luongo] is a professional and he handles himself very well," Price said. "He's a veteran and he knows exactly what he's doing. If anybody can handle that type of pressure it will be him. I played golf with him this summer, met him at the All-Star Game a few years ago, but aside from that don't know him too well. Obviously he's a pretty relaxed and pretty funny guy."
During the 2009-10 regular season Price struggled with the pressure of playing in Montreal and simply being a young, skilled goalie with great potential. He lost the reins on the starting job to Jaroslav Halak, who took the Canadiens on a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final.
There was plenty of speculation that Price and not Halak, an impending unrestricted free agent at the time, would be traded, but Montreal decided to trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues and keep Price with the hope he would become the franchise goalie he's becoming this season. Price learned from that experience and if he is in a similar position as a backup goalie in Sochi he won't let that discourage him.
"That was a trying time for me, but at the same time it taught me a lot about being a professional," Price said. "No matter how the scenario plays out I'm going there to try and help the team win no matter what. That was the whole point of that [summer evaluation] camp and trying to earn a spot on that team. You want to try and be the guy, but at the same time you've got to respect the decision of the coaching staff and understand that you need to accept your role no matter what it is and do the best you can to help the team win. That's just common knowledge for every player going to this tournament, I think."