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Price, Plante bonded by family ties, place in history with Canadiens

Goalie greats never met, but forever linked as next record set to fall

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Carey Price is on the doorstep of Montreal Canadiens history, and the son of the man he's about to overtake, one of the greatest goalies the game has ever known, is eager to see him step inside.

Price has 313 regular-season victories, one shy of tying the legendary Jacques Plante atop the Canadiens' franchise list for most wins by a goalie. He will have a shot at equaling Plante's record this week, and perhaps claiming it for his own, when the Canadiens play three games in four nights in California against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.

"Records are made to be broken," said Michel Plante, 67, whose Montreal living room pays tribute to his iconic, late father with framed paintings and a jersey. "Carey catching my dad will be a very important event for the Montreal Canadiens, and for Carey. He deserves it. He won those games. And especially to play in Montreal. It's a completely different world than playing somewhere else, being able to stand all that pressure."

Video: Carey Price reflects on his career after tying Plante

The record has loomed larger with every win, though Price has been so focused on the moment that he sometimes had to ask team staff how close he was getting.

When Price does indeed claim the record for his own, expect the Canadiens to schedule a celebration of the feat before a Bell Centre home game, when Michel Plante almost certainly would for the first time meet the goalie who caught his late father.

It matters little to Plante's son that Price has had the benefit of overtime and the shootout, which his father didn't have, to pad his wins total. Price (313-220-67) has won 244 games in regulation time, 39 more in overtime and 30 by way of shootout. Plante, whose No. 1 was retired by the Canadiens in 1995, nine years after his death at age 57, won 314 games with the Canadiens, lost 133 and tied 107. Given some of the powerhouse teams he played on, he might have won half or more of those ties in overtime or shootout.

Michel Plante in his living room with framed tributes to his late father

"You can't compare eras, not with equipment, the rules and the schedule," Plante said. "I'm most proud of my father's goals-against average with the Canadiens (2.22), which is better than Carey (2.47), Ken Dryden (2.24) and Patrick Roy (2.78)."

Plante also had the NHL's best save percentage three times in Montreal - 1955-56 (.930); 1958-59 (.925) and 1961-62 (.923).

If he had the chance to talk to Plante today, Price says the chat would turn to equipment, "as most goaltending conversations go. I'd like to probably pick his brain on his mentality toward the game, and his technique."

The Price-Plante connection has fascinating roots. Price's father, Jerry, a goalie, was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the eighth round of the 1978 NHL Draft (No. 126), never to play an NHL game. But when he arrived at training camp that fall, he was taken under the wing and mentored by the Flyers goalie coach - Jacques Plante.

Carey Price's tribute to Jacques Plante on his 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic mask

"For some reason, Jacques kind of liked me," Jerry Price told the Canadiens website last March. "I think it was because I tried to pattern myself after Bernie Parent and Jacques was also Bernie's mentor."

Indeed, Parent, a Flyers' Stanley Cup champion in 1974 and 1975, credits spending time with Plante in 1970-72 when they were Toronto Maple Leafs teammates for teaching him how to be a professional goalie.

"Sitting with (Plante) and having him talk about different aspects of the game, you could tell that it was something that he loved and was passionate about," Jerry Price said. "That's what drew me in, because that's what I loved, too. There's nothing that I loved more than hockey and playing goal. That's the way Jacques was."

Father and son have had discussions about Plante, and Carey Price has twice worn likenesses of Plante on his masks - on Dec. 4, 2009 in a game to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens' first game in the pre-NHL National Hockey Association and on Feb. 20, 2011 in the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic in Calgary, with Plante's open eyes, mouth and ears framing Price's face. 

Since Price's 2007 arrival in Montreal as a highly touted 20-year-old prospect, Michel Plante has watched the native of Anahim Lake, British Columbia buckled into the thrill ride that goes with being the Canadiens' last line of defense, which Plante saw first-hand with his dad.

Michel Plante in his father's arms in the Montreal Forum dressing room during 1956-57 training camp. Courtesy David Bier, Montreal Canadiens

As a Montreal youngster in the mid-1950s, Plante witnessed his father hit performance peaks while absorbing volleys of criticism in Montreal, where the goalie is forever scrutinized by fans and media unlike any other player. 

Certainly, there were more peaks than valleys. Plante won six Stanley Cup championships with the Canadiens, in 1953 and then five consecutively between 1956-60. He won six of his seven Vézina Trophy awards in Montreal, from 1956-60 and in 1961-62, sharing his last with St. Louis Blues stablemate Glenn Hall in 1968-69.

"Even if now they have a coach for themselves, goalies are still alone in their world," Michel Plante said. "They're the last man on the ice to stop the puck. These guys are really special individuals, so of course I look more at the goalie and how he performs. 

"Carey was at the top his first four, five years with Montreal, then he was injured, and people started to criticize him very badly, even to me. I told them, 'It's not an easy job and I think he's doing his best.' If he's injured, he has things to repair and eventually he's going to bounce back."

Jacques Plante and Carey Price filling different amounts of the net

Price has done that in a big way this season, coming off the weakest campaign of his career. In 2017-18, he went 16-26-7 with a .900 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average. This season, in the first year of an eight-year contract extension, he's 27-19-5, .916, 2.54. 

"As an athlete in general, I think a lot of us are wired to want to obviously perform at a peak level and last year I didn't feel I did that," Price said during a recent talk at his team's practice rink. "This year I feel we're all playing better, it's not just myself. I feel like my consistency is back and I feel that our team game is more consistent, too."

A year ago, Price sat in his team's dressing room to discuss catching Plante for most franchise games played by a goalie at 556. A portrait of Plante was overhead 11 stalls down, one of eight Hall of Fame Canadiens goalies so celebrated.

Price admitted at the time that "I don't know an awful lot (about Plante), to be honest," though he's learned more as he's closed the games-won gap.

He might have discovered that Plante was renowned for his puck-handling skills, one of Price's strengths. In fact, Plante often had so little faith in the ability of his defense to clear the puck that he'd do so himself, roaming wide into the corners and up to the face-off circles and farther to feed his forwards. Jake the Snake, as Plante was nicknamed, wouldn't be a fan of the trapezoid.

Jacques Plante often took puck-clearing into his own hands. Courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame

When Price overtakes Plante for wins, he will sit atop every major Montreal goaltending category but shutouts. He is ranked No. 1 all time for games played, having passed Plante's 556 last season on his way to his current 610, and also leads minutes played with 35,953.

Price is fourth on the shutout list, his 43 three behind No. 3 Dryden's 46, trailing Plante's 58 and the 75 of leader George Hainsworth, an early-era goalie who racked up 49 shutouts in the three seasons of 1926-29, before the NHL legalized the forward pass.

"That's (going to be) tough to get in today's game," Price joked of Hainsworth's record. "I feel like shutouts are progressively getting harder to get but I've got a lot of years left. That's going to be another goal of mine moving forward but I've got bigger fish to fry."

So as Price sharpens his aim at Plante's franchise record for victories, Michel Plante considers how his father might have viewed having his record overhauled after it stood for more than a half-century.

"I'm sure my dad wouldn't have any problem with it," he said. "Dad liked to share his experiences. And he was very meticulous, which I think Carey is also. I remember in the days of a six-team NHL, he knew most of the players by heart. He'd say, 'If this guy comes in on me from that side of the rink, he'll pass this way or shoot.' There was no video in those days. He was going by memory. And when it happened, it's like he had video in front of him.

Jacques Plante and Carey Price wearing very different equipment

"I'd want Carey to know this about my dad: he was a people person. If someone would stop him to talk about hockey, or anything that was personal to them, he always took the time to talk. This is one aspect of my father that really touched me. I was very proud of that. He never acted like a big superstar. He knew the people who came to the rink were real fans. For him, that was important.

"It's something we should always take care of - the people around us. To me, it's people skills that are the most important part of a person. To listen and care about people. Whether the guy was wearing a suit, jeans or on the beach, to my dad, he was a person."

Price will soon have that conversation in person with Michel Plante. For now, the goaltending wins record for a franchise that was born before the NHL seems a little surreal.

"Obviously I'm very proud of all the accomplishments that have come along with sticking around for so long," Price said. "I guess I'll have more time to reflect on it when I'm closer to the end of my career. It's hard to reflect on things when you think you've got so many years remaining. I feel like it's just a kind of another stepping stone on to greater things."

Carey Price photos except Heritage Classic mask courtesy of CCM Hockey

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