LOS ANGELES— Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price spent just under 20 minutes talking to the gathered media in Brossard, Que., Thursday and very little of it was dedicated to the reason he called a press conference in the first place: to discuss his selection to Team Canada’s preliminary roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Forgive those in attendance for poking and prodding at Price’s mystery recuperation from a lower body injury that has forced him to miss all but 12 games this season.
He hadn’t spoken publicly since accepting the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Athlete of the year on Dec. 15, and on that day he divulged nothing on the nature of his injury, the timeline of his recovery or the possibility it would be extended indefinitely.
What Price could confirm on Thursday was that surgery was never and is never going to be part of the equation, that he’s made steady progress and that he’s confident he’ll return to game action this season, but only if he’s 100 per cent ready.
If he believes his best course of action is to return and if the doctors are on board with the idea, why should anyone disagree?
“I want to be out there playing the game I love,” said Price. “It’s not a matter of protecting me; I’m going to play regardless. I’d rather do it sooner than later.”
A popular theory among Canadiens fans is that it was this exact type of thinking that got Price into this jam to begin with. He had missed nine games from Oct. 29 to Nov. 19 with what was assumed to be the same injury he’s dealing with now. He was off to New York to seek a second opinion on his recovery on Monday, Nov. 16, and he was back in net on Friday, Nov. 20. But Price mentioned Thursday that the injury he suffered Nov. 25 was of a different nature.
"I came back quickly, but I don't think me getting injured the second time necessarily has anything to do with my first injury," Price said. "If you look at the tape, that could have happened to me if I was 100 per cent healthy."
And so it is with that mentality that Price continues to forge his way towards a return.
Last week, he sought a “controlled environment” away from the team’s Brossard practice facility and away from the cameras, to take his first strides in full equipment. This week, he graduated to fielding shots from injured Canadiens forward David Desharnais as reporters looked on.
Price said the physical rehabilitation process has been difficult and frustrating, but it pales in comparison to the mental strain of being absent from competition for 15 weeks and watching his team battle predictable adversity in his absence.
“Yeah, there was a few times I went in [the Canadiens dressing room] and I said a couple of things,” Price said. “But it’s difficult for me to go do something like that.”
Price has always felt more comfortable making a difference on the ice.
Coming back this season is as much about peace of mind for him as it is about rekindling the competitive spirit that took him to the peak of the hockey world from 2014 through 2015, when he added the Hart and Vezina Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award to his Olympic Gold Medal.
“That’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence,” said Price. “I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”
It’s a hurdle Price wants to jump over before participating in Team Canada’s World Cup training camp next fall. However, he may not be able to do it.
When he was asked to rate how he felt on the ice on a scale from 1 to 10, he indicated he was “between three and seven.”
You have to wonder what it’ll take to get Price to a 10. You also have to wonder how much longer it will take him to get there. If it doesn't happen before Montreal’s 17 remaining games are played, he won’t use the World Championships in Moscow (in May) as a testing ground.
“I’m assuming that I’ll be able to get some pretty good reps in between now and the end of the season.” Price assured. “I know my body. Once the season’s done, I’ll have continued rehab through the summer; I’m not just going to stop rehabbing. But then I’ll get a month and a half of skating in before the World Cup camp starts.”
But the hope is that next time Price speaks with reporters, it’ll be to announce his return to action.