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Price to start Olympic opener for Canada

by Arpon Basu

SOCHI -- Carey Price can add Olympic starting goalie to his resume.

The Montreal Canadiens goaltender will start for Canada when it opens the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Thursday against Norway (Noon ET, USA, CBC) and Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo will start the second game against Austria on Friday (Noon ET, USA, CBC).

Canadian coach Mike Babcock already had stated that Price and Luongo each would start one of Canada's first two games, but he informed the goalies Wednesday morning in what order that would happen.

"I'm just excited," Price said. "It's been a lingering thought, but this whole season I've been preparing one game at a time. That doesn't change once I get here. I've been preparing these last two days for this game [Thursday] and I'll just continue to do the same."

Luongo was not Babcock's starter at the beginning of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics either, but he eventually took the job from New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and helped Canada claim the gold medal.

Four years later he will be watching Canada's opening game from the bench once again.

"I just want to be ready for whenever I'm called upon," Luongo said. "As we saw last time, things change quickly. Whoever is playing doesn't matter as long as all three guys are ready to play."

Price entered the Olympics hot, going 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average and .967 save percentage in his final six starts prior to the games.

Luongo, on the other hand, didn't.

Playing behind a Canucks defense decimated by injuries, Luongo lost his final five starts and allowed at least three goals in his past six, going 1-5-0 with a 3.55 GAA and .880 save percentage.

Of course, the defense playing in front of any Canadian goalie will be considerably better than what they are accustomed to, but the same could be said for the attacking forwards coming at them.

Luongo did not appear disappointed by the decision and said all that matters is that Canada wins.

"We're all here to play for Team Canada," he said. "It's not about one player. We're all pulling on the same rope. It's a team game right now. It's not about Roberto Luongo or Carey Price or Mike Smith. It's about being a part of Team Canada. It doesn't matter what role you are given, you have to embrace it and accept it."

It is just one game, but being named starter for Canada's first game represents a significant milestone for Price. His career has resembled the beautiful Caucasus Mountains that surround this coastal resort town in that it has been littered with peaks and valleys.

Price's career definitely began with more peaks.

He won gold for Canada at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship, going 6-0-0 with a 1.14 GAA and .961 save percentage. Following his final junior season with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League in 2007, Price joined the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League for the Calder Cup playoffs. He led the Canadiens farm team to an unlikely Calder Cup championship, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP after posting a 2.05 GAA and .936 save percentage in 22 games.

Price was handed the starting job with the Canadiens midway through the following season and he appeared like he was well on his way toward a moment like the one he will experience Thursday.

But then the valleys came.

Price's play faltered after he was voted to start the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal, and he lost the starting job with the Canadiens to Jaroslav Halak in 2010 when Montreal made it to the Eastern Conference Final with Price watching from the bench.

Price bounced back in 2010-11 with the best season of his career and it looked as though he would repeat that performance last season. But he and the Canadiens had a difficult finish and lost in five games to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after claiming the second seed in the East, again surrounding Price's candidacy for Sochi in doubt.

Back then it would have been difficult to envision Price starting the opening game for Canada at the Olympics, but he has been outstanding again for Montreal this season and earned the nod from Babcock.

It is just one game, but in many ways it represents so much more to Price.

"It's been definitely a highlight, there's no question," Price said. "I seem to have had a lot in my young life so far. It definitely ranks up there."

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