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Price's experiences in Montreal run the gamut

by Arpon Basu
If Carey Price was your normal 23-year-old, he'd be fresh out of college this fall, taking his first full-time steps into the work force.

Price still would have the innocence and blissful naiveté of someone who has yet to see how the real world actually works. But Price is not that hypothetical figure, because in his three NHL seasons, he essentially has run the gamut of emotions, successes and hardships one can go through in the NHL.

In that sense, at age 23, Price is a grizzled veteran.

"I've kind of been at both ends of the spectrum. I've kind of seen it all already," Price said. "That's pretty good after my first contract, after finishing my entry-level deal I've already seen everything the NHL can dish at me."

The microscope under which Price has played his entire career may make it easy to forget just how young he still is, and how much baggage -- good and bad -- he's carrying at a time when he easily could be just starting his NHL career.

Now that he's again the Canadiens' starting goalie, it's a load that will only get heavier this season.

A demanding fan base that already has grown somewhat impatient with his development will be seeking near perfection from Price this season after Canadiens management decided to stick with him and ship out last spring's playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak. That short leash reared its ugly head in the Canadiens' first preseason game, with Price getting booed by the Bell Centre faithful after allowing four goals on the first eight shots he faced. But it's nothing Price hasn't seen before.

"I'm pretty numb to it now," he said, sounding like a veteran. "It's just another day on the job."

Price's short time with the Canadiens can be summed up with two symmetrical lines that could very well describe an entire career for most players. The first would be on a sharp, upward trajectory, starting with him being taken by the Canadiens with the fifth pick of the 2005 Entry Draft, continuing through his victory for Canada at the World Junior Championship, a Calder Cup title with Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton, and being handed the most pressure-packed job in hockey -- if not all sports -- as the starting goalie for the storied Canadiens.

The apex of his three NHL seasons came at the exact middle point of his career, the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal, where he was voted into the starting lineup as a 21-year-old.

From there, the downward trajectory began.

In his 74 regular-season and playoff games since the 2009 All-Star break, Price has a 20-37-10 record with a 3.13 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, a slide that saw him lose  his starting job last season and being forced to watch from the bench as Halak led the Canadiens to within three wins of the Stanley Cup Final.

Throughout that difficult time, his teammates insist Price gave no indication he was letting the adversity get to him, even though he now can admit it was.

"He's been through a whole lot of different things, the highs of being the starter in the All-Star Game in Montreal to the lows of being booed in his own building," said Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges, Price's closest friend on the team. "But he's never changed his demeanor, he's never complained about it. He's a true professional in that manner."

Price admits his sudden rise to prominence gave him a sense that he had made it and had nothing left to prove, but he says his experience the last two seasons has humbled him and forced him to take a long, hard look at himself this past summer. And while he has vowed that his work ethic never will be better and he will pay more attention to detail in sharpening the technical aspects of his game this season, it's between the ears that Price hopes to see the biggest improvement.

"When I'm having fun, I'm playing my best," Price said. "When you're losing you have to keep in mind that it's still fun. It's better than working out in the bush. It's still a fun thing to do for work, and I have to keep that in mind."

That may be a difficult task, with the Canadiens' hopes this season resting largely on his shoulders.

If Price falters, if he gets the least bit shaken, if he has an off-night, he will have 21,273 people in the Bell Centre reminding him of it.

"That's just the way it is here," Price said. "It hasn't changed in the last 50 years; it's not going to change in 50 days."

So what is it that could make it change?

"Winning," Price said.

That's a heavy burden for any goalie to bear, let alone one that just turned 23.

But despite his tender age, Price will have a diverse and extensive tool box of experience to draw upon in trying to make it happen.
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