I was sitting in the Air Canada Centre press box watching the Habs battle the Maple Leafs when Toronto’s Jason Blake made a swift and deft rush, only to have his shot stopped by Carey Price.
“Man, he’s smooth,” I remarked to my colleague, Ryan Kennedy.
“Yeah, Blake has a real burst of speed,” Kennedy observed.
“True, but I was actually talking about Price.”
And that’s the book on the 20-year-old: on the ice, he has the poise and presence of a mature veteran. The save on Blake wasn’t flashy, but is typical of his style – he quickly, but seemingly effortlessly, kicked out his right pad to foil a dangerous chance. And he made it look easy; he has the grace of a butterfly in the butterfly position.
It’s tempting to get carried away with Price, to wonder whether he’s the next in a long line of great Habs’ netminders. Could he be the next Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Jacques Plante?
Or will he be the next Carey, as in Jim Carey, the “Net Detective”?
If you’re not familiar with him, Jim Carey was a wunderkind goalie for the Washington Capitals, quickly skyrocketing to stardom. He was the Calder Trophy runner-up to Peter Forsberg in 1995, then interrupted Dominik Hasek’s 1990s Vezina Trophy domination by snagging the top netminder award in ‘96. But Carey flamed out after just five seasons, at age 24, caving to the pressure and expectations his early performance helped build.
My gut tells us Price has the make-up to hold up in the right environment; his body of work over the past few seasons (World Junior, AHL) is impressive and he appears to have franchise player pedigree. But it won’t be easy, particularly in Montreal, a town that rivals Toronto for most intense hockey market on the planet.
I hope the Habs understand and appreciate what they have and nurture their fledgling star, that they continue to spot him and don’t run him into the ground should they find themselves in a desperate position to try to qualify for the playoffs this spring.
Even with his poise, I can only expect a kid barely old enough to drink legally to withstand so much pressure.