MONTREAL — Just your normal, run-of-the-mill off-season for Canadiens goaltender Carey Price:
He spent the first weeks of it in Montreal, then at his summertime home in Kelowna, B.C., rehabilitating a second-degree sprain of his left knee’s medial collateral ligament, an injury suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Ottawa Senators.
Price’s goaltending coach of four years, Pierre Groulx, was let go by the Habs on June 3, replaced a month later by two-time Stanley Cup-champion Stéphane Waite, imported from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The netminder vacationed in Hawaii with his fiancée, Angela, while attending July’s Maui wedding of friend and teammate Josh Gorges.
Last month, eight days after his 26th birthday, Price and Angela were wed at a winery in upstate Washington.
Before dawn the next morning, the groom and P.K. Subban, a wedding guest, were on a plane to Calgary to take part in Team Canada’s Sochi 2014 evaluation camp, their first step on a journey they hope lands them on his country’s Olympic team.
On Tuesday, Price stepped onto a raised platform near the clubhouse steps of Laval-sur-le-Lac Golf Club, before the Canadiens’ annual charity tournament, and stared out into a familiar sea of journalists hanging on his every syllable.
“Pretty much exactly the same,” he said with a shrug, in grand understatement, of his off-season routine. “I got away from it for a little while … preparing for a wedding and whatnot.”
Of course, Price still might have been light-headed, having just descended from the altitude of the Harley-Davidson-trimmed Ford F-350 he had navigated to the clubhouse. The swanky sports cars rolling up would be little more than bugs on the windshield of his loaner, a beast more at home in a monster truck rally than at a golf course.
“Could use a ladder,” he later joked about the climb down from behind the wheel.
The lockout-shortened 2013 NHL campaign hardly ended the way Price or the Canadiens universe would have liked. Heading into the playoffs, he lost six of his last eight starts, his .856 save percentage a sudsy statistic of beer leagues, and improved only marginally to .894 in his four playoff starts, winning once and losing twice.
Then came his injury, his exit figuratively wrapped with a bow of knee bandages.
But if there is concern about Price having a rebound season — and a big rebound in goaltending can be a good thing — you weren’t hearing it from anyone in the Canadiens family on Tuesday’s golf course.
“He went through a tough patch and a lot of good goalies go through tough times,” general manager Marc Bergevin said. “It’s about maturing. Surrounding him with Stéphane Waite … will help him a lot.”
Said Gorges, who knows Price better than any player on the team: “Your goalies are a huge piece of the puzzle. We expect a lot from them and we expect (Price) to be at his best. He’s trained harder this summer that he ever has and he’s got himself into fantastic shape.
“He’s been through more ups and downs in his short time in Montreal that he knows how to handle these kind of situations. We know he’s going to be at his best all year.”
Added high-profile free-agent signing Daniel Brière, who will be playing in a million-watt spotlight of his own: “I consider myself very lucky to be part of team that has Carey Price as its goalie. I’m excited. I have no doubt that he’ll have a big season.”
If there’s pressure to perform, Price says he doesn’t feel it. Or at least, he feels it no more than he has every autumn since he arrived with the Canadiens for training camp in 2007, defying the odds that October to avoid demotion to minor-league Hamilton.
“Everybody is really excited to get this year going, I don’t think anybody feels added pressure at all,” he said, suggesting his palms will be dry when the season begins at home Oct. 1 vs. Toronto.
“We all feel that there may be higher expectations for us (the Canadiens rallying from last in the East in 2011-12 to second place last season), but it seems to be like that every year.”
Nor is there any additional stress of every save — and every goal against — being part of his audition for Sochi.
“Bottom line is I want to play well no matter what, whether trying to make the Olympic team or just play well here,” Price said. “It really shouldn’t make that much of a difference.”
The learning curve begins again with Waite, who mentored first Antti Niemi and then Corey Crawford to championships in Chicago.
“It’s going to be a fresh start,” Price said of working with Waite, whom he’s spoken with briefly by phone a couple of times by way of introduction.
“Obviously, he has an excellent resumé. He’s had success in Chicago so I’m really excited to get started building our relationship.”
Waite said upon his hiring two months ago that he had a feeling for what he wanted to do with Price, work that will begin in earnest on the first day of training camp next week.
“I have an idea what I want to do with Carey, little things,” Waite said. “They won’t be big changes. Carey is one of the good goalies in the league. I’m not here to change him from A to Z. He doesn’t need (that), far from it. He has qualities and I’m going to work around those qualities.”
What Price will discover is a coach to whom technique is only part of the equation, a proven teacher to whom a netminder’s instincts and skills of reaction are every bit as vital as the position’s mechanics.
Waite, meanwhile, will find a healthy goalie who in six seasons has lived every conceivable emotion in the Canadiens’ unique fishbowl, and who doesn’t need to be reminded that much of the team’s success begins and ends with him.
Price took longer than usual to return to conventional off-season training, giving his knee all the time it needed to return to full strength.
“There was no real sense rushing back for July,” he said. “I didn’t have any setbacks, so I feel good and ready to go.”
His biggest health issue might have been welted shins, suffered from the evil puck-hard orange balls fired at his bare legs in Calgary during Olympic head coach Mike Babcock’s ball-hockey exercise.
“I haven’t played ball hockey since I used to hang out with one of my groomsmen in front of his house. And that was in high school,” Price said, grinning.
In Calgary, he added, “there was no messing around. I took a couple off the shins. I was flinching after that.”
During Brossard camp, Price and backup Peter Budaj will have the additional challenge of breaking in new pads that NHL rules mandate are roughly two inches shorter; the 10-per-cent shrinkage knee to hip will serve to ventilate a little of the five-hole.
“I’m probably going to be a little bit in for a shock here,” Price said, admitting he’s not yet even seen his new CCM gear while still practising in last year’s pads.
Smaller equipment will be just one of Price’s adjustments in the weeks and months ahead.
Every training camp is a resetting of goals that all point to the same ultimate objective: giving your team a chance to win each and every night.
“Every goaltender prepares for a season wanting to improve his overall game,” Price said.
In this, his seventh season in a Canadiens net, 310 NHL games in his rear-view, pulling into a golf tournament in a truck two storeys above the asphalt, never has he had a clearer view of the road ahead.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette