Price facing latest challenge for Canadiens with familiar, quiet resolve

Carey Price is publicly a quiet and taciturn man, economical with words, usually dispensing his thoughts in short sentences rather than long paragraphs.

The 34-year-old Montreal Canadiens goalie’s news conference Sunday about his immediate and longer-term hockey future, a 14-minute interview that featured more question marks than exclamation points, was precisely to form. It was in perfect tune with the country music fan who styled a fine Johnny Cash: black suit, black shirt and grey tie, his cowboy hat beside him on the table.

Price spoke as evenly as he has almost without exception since being selected by the Canadiens with the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, the same steady tone he’s had through almost every high and low with Montreal since he signed his first contract April 10, 2007. But in this quarter-hour, he was processing not the result of a single win or loss but the massive personal challenges and hardships of the past six months that have likely exceeded all the combined hurdles he’s faced in the 14-plus seasons he’s played for the Canadiens.

Video: Best Carey Price Saves from the 2020-21 NHL Season

Price said he has no idea when he’ll be back in the Canadiens lineup, a knee that was surgically repaired six months ago still giving him problems. He spoke of the chance he won’t play a game this season and contemplated the possibility that he has played his last.

“You never know. There’s always a possibility,” he said of the latter worst-case scenario. “There’s a lot going on over the next couple of weeks that will determine the rest of my season. … I’m not a fortune teller. I’m just trying to stick to the process that’s at hand and that’s trying to get back on the ice and see how it feels when I get back into a game situation.”

And that, too, was spoken very matter-of-factly, without drama or visible emotion.

Consider the veteran goalie’s journey since July:

He played brilliantly through the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, taking the Canadiens five games deep into the Final before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Montreal’s first trip to the championship round since 1993, when it won its 24th and most recent title. Price went 13-9 in the postseason with a 2.28 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout.

Carey Price, age 19, signs his first NHL contract April 10, 2007, and in action during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Price sat in a Tampa Bay dressing room July 7, processing the season-ending 1-0 loss while realizing the career of his good friend, Canadians captain Shea Weber, was likely done. He knew that night that he himself was headed for surgery, a meniscus-repairing knee operation that was performed in New York on July 23 with an announced 10-12 weeks for full recovery.

Price lived the drama of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft the day before his surgery, having waived his no-movement clause to be left unprotected by the Canadiens, ultimately not selected by the Seattle Kraken.

What followed was an offseason of rehabilitation, crisscrossing North America on several occasions with his wife and three young children.

On Oct. 7, Price voluntarily entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to deal with an issue of substance use, leaving his family for a month to get treatment. He returned to the Canadiens but his training and physical recovery were slowed around Christmastime and early into the New Year, his wife Angela said on her Instagram account that she had tested positive for COVID-19. On Jan. 17, the team announced he would be restarting rehabilitation on his knee.

And then came his news conference Sunday, Price’s status clouded for months. He had spoken to the media once since last July, a conversation with NHL.com in mid-September. By then he was back in the Canadiens gym and medical clinic almost daily.

Price had a message for fans Sunday evening from Bell Centre, thanking them, the Canadiens and his family, for their support:

“I just want to say that I’m doing well,” he said. “I know it’s been a frustrating time for everybody. It’s been one for me as well. It’s been a long year, and I know there’s a lot of frustrations out there, but everybody out here is trying their hardest, everybody’s putting in the work and doing their best.

“For me personally, it’s been a long stretch. It’s been hard to be out watching your teammates, especially not having success. Having a couple of setbacks has been frustrating for sure, but I just want everybody to know that I’m doing well and I’m looking forward to the future.”

About all that’s clear about Price’s future is its uncertainty. Four seasons remain on an eight-year contract he signed July 2, 2017, and he again said that he’s committed to the Canadiens.

“Me and my family are very happy here,” Price said, rejecting the notion that a change of scenery would suit him. “We’re settled in. This is our home. There’s a reason I signed the contract like I did here with a no-movement clause, it was to be here. As of right now, I have no plans to move anywhere. …

“It’s a big part of my identity, for one, being a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens has been my life for over a decade. … I just want to be able to get back in there and just continue playing and to be able to put that sweater on again. It’s something that is keeping me motivated at this point.”

Throughout his NHL career, Price has been the Canadiens’ brightest light and, on occasion, the fans’ lightning rod for its shortcomings. He was voted by NHL general managers winner of the 2015 Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL, elected winner of the Hart Trophy for NHL most valuable player by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the Ted Lindsay Award, the MVP voted by NHL Players’ Association members.

The native of Anahim Lake, British Columbia is atop the Canadiens goaltending leaderboard in multiple categories, his record through 707 regular-season games 360-257-79. Among 88 Canadiens goalies since 1917, Price is first in games played, wins, time on ice (41,707:57), shots faced (20,911), saves (19,174) and third in shutouts, his 49 trailing the 75 of early-era George Hainsworth and the 58 of Jacques Plante, a legend of the 1950s and early 1960s.

In 92 playoff games, Price is 43-45, with a 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage and eight shutouts.

Now, nearly seven months since his last game, Price’s return to the Canadiens remains shrouded by fog, a mystery to his team, its fans and to a franchise goalie who is staring down his latest challenge with the same quiet resolve with which he’s faced the rest.

Photos: Montreal Canadiens; Jill Williams; Perry Nelson/Hockey Hall of Fame; Getty Images

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