Carey Price is the Most Misunderstood Goaltender in the NHL

Carey Price and his career with the Montreal Canadiens has been tumultuous, to say the least.  He was thrusted into the starting role in early 2008 as a rookie 20-year-old goaltender, for a team that unexpectedly finished first overall in the now defunct Northeast Division and also first overall in the Eastern Conference.  Up-and-down play from the British Columbia native has plagued the young star with an intense love-hate relationship with Habs fans.  When then general manager Pierre Gauthier traded goaltender Jaroslav Halak for Lars Eller after an amazing playoff run with a performance similar to that of a guy who wore 33 for the Canadiens, the trade was met with ire from many fans who felt they traded the wrong guy.  It was understood that one goaltender would be moving out of town.  Few expected it to be Halak.

To state it simply, no favours have been afforded to Price in his time with the Montreal Canadiens to help endear him to the fans.  Throw in quite a few questionable goals in the playoffs, and support from the Bell Centre has been quite fickle.

Despite heavy criticism at times, Carey Price has continued to perform.  With the exception of a late season stumble from Price last year at a time when it seems obvious now that he was injured, he was likely on pace for a Vezina Trophy nomination.  This season he has continued with a level of excellence and has secured himself a spot on the highly competitive Team Canada for the 2014 Olympic Winter games in Sochi, Russia.  While he is not assured a starting role, he is the presumed starter for the team at this point.

So how is Carey Price misunderstood?

If you’re watching Price play game after game, there are patterns that are predictable.  If Price is out at the top of the crease and challenging shooters, it is safe to assume the team is coming away with two points.  If he is back in the net and not challenging the shooters, it’s likely to be a long night.  But it is in Price’s demeanor that leads to him being so misunderstood.  When you watch him play, he is very controlled and calm at all-times – even when the 21,273 in attendance are not.

When trying to describe a goaltender in words, are “anxious, nervous, overwrought,” how you would describe the ideal goaltender? Of course they’re not.  A goaltender in hockey is much like a pitcher in baseball: calm, controlled, unshakable – this is what you want to see.  At the absolute peak of emotion in a sporting event, in a moment when the thousands of fans in the arena have their hands on their head and cannot control themselves, we ask our athletes to remain in control.  Carey Price has this.

Yet because he remains calm, remains controlled and whether he just made a highlight reel save or let in a soft goal, he immediately is moving on to the next shot; his perception from haters is that he is the epitome of flippancy.  When Price comes out of the net to play the puck, he’s not operating with a sense of urgency. And a fan base that has urgency coming out of their pores, a disconnect between fan and athlete is created.  Critics of Price want to see more of a Ron Hextall personality to remind them that he does care.

Any defender of Carey Price within the fan base of the Montreal Canadiens is likely to feel that it is an exercise in futility to try to have a Critic understand.  The Canadiens have a 26-year-old goaltender, an all-star caliber netminder, a goaltender that will presumably be starting in the Winter Olympics for the defending goal medal winning country. The team also has a fan base that is clearly divided.

When you look at Price’s roots, he is a young man from a small town and a simple upbringing.  He doesn’t crave a limelight or seek attention.  It’s safe to assume that if he were the starting goaltender for a small-market team somewhere in the United States, life might be a little bit easier for the young star.  But he’s not – he was dropped into the pressure cooker that it is to be the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens.  And while it has been tough for him at times over the years, the young star has turned a corner.  There’s a portion of fans of the team that still resent the trades that have continued to leave him with the Canadiens and they hold up goals that are often not his fault as justification for their disdain.  Measuring intangibles to try to explain something that doesn’t exist is a common denominator among the ones who claim Petr Budaj should be the starter or that Zach Fucale is the future of this team.

The irony here is that what makes Carey Price great is exactly what his critics hold against him.  When you think of the greatest relief pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera, if someone hit a line drive up the middle off an 0-2 fastball, did he give off any response?  He didn’t. It wasn’t in him.  If it was, he wouldn’t have been as great as he was.

If your perception of Carey Price is one of flippancy, you’re not paying attention.

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Main photo credit: bridgetds via photopin cc