Canadiens' Price shows humanity, courage in entering player assistance program

Jesse Fuchs and Eric Engels discuss Carey Price entering the NHL’s player assistance program and the next steps for the Montreal Canadiens.

BROSSARD, Que. — Carey Price, the franchise player of the Montreal Canadiens who’s often described as a brick wall—an impenetrable, invincible and unflappable player, one recently called “a legend” by divisional-foe-turned teammate Mike Hoffman, “a monster” by longtime teammate and close friend Jeff Petry, “amazing” by forward Tyler Toffoli, and referred to as “a Hall of Famer” by defenceman Ben Chiarot—showed his humanity on Thursday.

Price is all things he’s been depicted as above. In bleu, blanc et rouge, covered head-to-toe in goaltending armour, he’s a six-foot-three, 220-pound specimen, one of the purest and strongest athletes ever to grace an NHL ice surface, a superstar, a thoroughbred, and one of the game’s most celebrated players.

But it was minutes after news broke Price had checked himself into the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program—founded in 1996 and co-funded by both organizations to assist players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and other matters—that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin most appropriately described the 34-year-old as a “human being.”

“Today, I’m not thinking of Carey Price, goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens,” Bergevin said, “but Carey Price, the human being.”

I am, too.

I’m thinking about the quiet guy from Anahim Lake, B.C., a town so remote his father, Jerry, used to have to fly him to his minor hockey league games. I’m thinking about how that kid who grew up hunting in the mountains and fishing in the lake got dropped into one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant hockey cities when the Canadiens drafted him fifth overall in 2005 with only a vague concept of what that transition might be like.

Price never craved the attention that came with having to follow in the footsteps of goaltending royalty in Montreal. In fact, he actively built a bubble around himself to avoid as much of it as he could over the last 14 years—moving to the outskirts of the city, taking a guarded and reserved approach to answering questions from the media and keeping as low a profile as possible all in the aim of self-preservation.

I’m thinking about all of that because Price has now stuck a pin in that bubble. Like teammate Jonathan Drouin, who took a leave of absence from the Canadiens last season to deal with what was later revealed to be anxiety and insomnia issues he’d been saddled with for years, he has sacrificed much of the privacy he deeply covets.

But this decision Price has made is also self-preservation—so delicately and elegantly explained by his wife, Angela, in this message she published on her Instagram feed just before Bergevin addressed reporters at the Canadiens’ south-shore practice facility.

Carey Price, human being, is taking care of himself, and he’s showing great courage in this act.

Price, like Drouin before him, will help so many others in the process.

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, in crisis or needs someone to talk to, there are many resources available on Canada's public health website.

“I salute (them) and I’m glad they did,” said Bergevin. “And if there’s other players in the NHL who have different issues—whatever that is—I think the NHL and NHLPA are usually looking (out for) the well-being of their players and I commend them to do that. I think every general manager is very sensitive to that, and we are (too) here in Montreal. For Jo, and (for) Carey and his family—he’s got kids, he’s got three kids and his wife—I think we need to support them and to respect their privacy and wish them the best. I believe better days are ahead for Carey and his family.”

Whether or not it has anything to do with why Price is taking a step back right now, the goaltender has also been through many tough days in his time with the Canadiens.

He ascended to the starter’s net just months into his rookie season, in 2008, before plummeting to the backup’s net during the 2010 playoffs. He bounced back strong the next year before suffering through a miserable 2011-12 Canadiens campaign. He reached the tip of the goaltending pyramid from 2012-15—establishing himself as the best in the world, capturing Olympic Gold and the NHL’s most prestigious awards in the process—before suffering injuries that robbed him of the opportunity to play all but 12 games of the 2015-16 season.

There have been many aches, pains, bumps and bruises since—most of them experienced under the pressure that comes with an eight-year, $84-million contract—and Price has just quietly suffered them to continue trying to reclaim his place.

This last year was particularly hard. After one of the most tumultuous seasons of Price’s career, during which longtime goaltending coach Stephane Waite was fired as a direct result of his protégé’s early struggles, the goaltender managed to carry the Canadiens to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. He played as well as he ever had to do it.

But after the Canadiens lost in five games to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Price put the blame on himself.

“At the end of the day, I just don’t think I played well enough at the start of the series,” he said, clearly devastated by the result.

There was the expansion draft drama days later, which was unquestionably stressful for Price and his family.

But after things worked out and Price was relieved to be staying with the Canadiens, he told that he spent the bulk of his short off-season rehabbing from meniscus surgery—a process he said, “wasn’t very much fun.”

Price then skated a few times on his own and finally got back into equipment in the lead-up to the opening of training camp.

His progress was quickly halted, though. Bergevin said some swelling in the knee, which the GM and Price were assured by doctors was perfectly normal, forced the goaltender off the ice.

The reported illness that kept him off over the last few days turned out to be something else, something no one was expecting. Least of all Bergevin, who said he was caught totally off-guard when he received news on Wednesday that Price was entering the assistance program.

“It’s a minimum 30 days,” said Bergevin, “but it could be more.”

He added he was confident Price would be back this season, that he saw no reason that, “with the help he’s going to get, he can’t return to play at the same level as a goaltender,” and at one point he choked back tears contemplating their nine-year relationship and the knowledge Price was dealing with something much more serious than a knee injury.

“It’s hard,” Bergevin said, too despondent to continue to respond.

It wasn’t an easy day for Price’s teammates, either, who were made aware of his situation in a meeting prior to practice.

“I brought the whole team together to announce the news,” Bergevin said. “I spoke to (coach) Dominique (Ducharme) after the practice to see how things were and he told me the guys were shook up.

“(Price is) a big piece for us but he’s also a teammate, he’s a person, and I think that’s what affects us most.”

The Canadiens will miss him in the dressing room—and certainly on the ice, where his presence is much larger than the space he occupies in front of their net.

But Price is just a person. A person in need.

“He’s had a lot of success in Montreal, so he can manage many things,” Bergevin said. “Yesterday he decided he needed help, so I support him 1000 per cent.”

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