SUMMERLAND, British Columbia -- Carey Price is finding it much easier to enjoy the offseason this year than he did in 2016.
From watching his daughter, Liv, take her first steps to not having to worry as much about his own first strides back on the ice, the Montreal Canadiens goaltender said he's more comfortable than he was last summer, when he was trying to come back from a serious knee injury and get ready for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at the same time.
"It felt like there was a lot less anxiety around it," said Price, who signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension July 2 and turned 30 last Wednesday. "I knew going into last year we were going from zero to 60 right away, going straight into a high-profile, world's-best tournament right off the get-go, so coming off an injury season was a little bit nerve-wracking."
Price said there was never any doubt he would be ready for the World Cup and the NHL season that followed, even though he hadn't played since spraining the MCL in his right knee during a game against the New York Rangers on Nov. 25, 2015. But he admitted it has been nice not having that hanging over his head at all this offseason.
"Not having that looming over the start allows you to, I wouldn't say relax, but be a little more comfortable going into the year," he said.
Price certainly looked relaxed and comfortable on the ice Sunday with the 18 goalies -- 17 boys and one girl -- who bid for the chance to spend a day training with him, his father, Jerry Price, and goaltending coach Eli Wilson in the British Columbia interior. After sitting down with the kids, who came from as far as Prince Edward Island and Colorado, for breakfast, Price led them through an off-ice warmup that included static stretching and dynamic movements, and then shared a locker room as they all got geared up and ready for the first of two on-ice sessions.
Price demonstrated the drills with Wilson, who was Ottawa Senators goaltending coach from 2007-2010, moving with the same power and effortless efficiency that helped him win the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2014-15, and be a finalist for the Vezina last season. Price then helped coach the kids through each drill, sometimes weighing in 1-on-1 with technical advice, other times with a quick pep talk and words of encouragement.
Between the two on-ice sessions, Price sat down with NHL.com to reflect on the offseason changes in Montreal, including the departure of veteran defenseman Andrei Markov, who returned to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
"It took me about six years to get a word out of Marky, but I am going to miss him," Price said with a laugh. "He's been there my entire career. I was just talking about that with my dad last night, how he's had a big influence on me in my career, he's done a lot for me. He's always been obviously on the ice a steady defenseman, but he's always pushed me off the ice and being a professional, and I have a lot to thank him for."
Price also discussed the addition of playmaking forward Jonathan Drouin in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15 and expectations for the first training camp under coach Claude Julien since he took over Feb. 14 when Michel Therrien was fired.
"He's obviously a dynamic offensive player, and whenever you can add that into your lineup, it's refreshing," Price said of Drouin. "There is going to be a lot of new looks. Whenever you get new bodies into the lineup, it is going to be a refreshing, probably a very energetic training camp. I am sure we are going to get a few things introduced into our game and strategy going into the season, so there will probably be a little bit more teaching in this training camp."
Price said he'll approach training camp with the same mixture of emotions he usually does -- "a little excited, a little nervous" -- but paused and smiled before adding, "It's always hard to talk about the year when you are in the middle of your summer still."
For Price, enjoying the summer is an important part of maintaining the balance between calm and competitive that he is so often lauded for in the crease. It's why he puts his gear away early in the offseason before getting back onto the ice in early August, starting by skating without any goalie equipment before putting on his gear for informal practices and scrimmages with a seemingly endless list of NHL players who call the area home in the summer.
"That's something I have always really believed in, is for me personally to step back from the game and not look at my equipment for a couple of months and try to build that hunger up again, because at the end of the season, you get pretty worn out," Price said.
Participating in the Eli Wilson Goaltending Camp has become part of that routine the past three summers for Price, who will choose a charity to donate proceeds from the one-day experience. And even if it has become an indicator summer is winding down, Price isn't ready for it to end yet. He's got a family trip to Oregon planned for some whitewater rafting and fly-fishing before moving back to Montreal a few days before the annual golf tournament that precedes training camp.
"Being able to step away from the game and live life and watch your child grow and enjoy the fruits of your labor is important," Price said. "It was a pretty fulfilling summer, obviously with Liv being a little older and watching her take her first steps. It was really enjoyable."
And less stressful than the summer before.
All photos courtesy of David Hutchison/InGoal Magazine