In a better world, there would be ample time to properly savour the moment. But this is the NHL: There are games to be played, matchups to fret over.
So it was that, barely 24 hours after having a gold medal draped around his neck at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Team Canada goalie Carey Price was back in a Montreal Canadiens hoodie, standing at the team’s practice facility.
When he sauntered in after an exhausting overnight flight, his position coach, Stéphane Waite, sidled up, welcomed him back and told him to go watch some video. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Are you serious?’” Waite recalled with a laugh.
No, he wasn’t.
Price will have a couple of days off to get over the transatlantic travel, but likely no more – there’s no time to properly bask.
“It was a really cool … experience, and I was really honoured and grateful for the opportunity,” he said, adding: “It hasn’t really sunk in a whole lot. I’m sure it will over the next couple of days.”
The 26-year-old, who hails from tiny Anahim Lake, B.C., has had hot stretches before, but going 5-0 under the Olympic floodlights and giving up only three goals (two on deflections, one on a breakaway) is a different level of good.
He carried a career-long shutout string through the semi-final and final games, and while he said, “Emotionally, it was a very trying time,” Price returns from Russia a better, more confident player.
The performance should also button a few lips, notably among the naysayers who complain he doesn’t perform under pressure.
“It’s satisfying, no question. There was a lot of doubt about the position going into the Olympics, we heard about it [last] August, at the orientation camp, and being able to deliver at the right time was huge,” he said.
Asked what lesson he brings back from playing on one of the most dominant teams to take the ice in international hockey, Price said: “Just how composed everybody was at all times; you could tell a lot of those guys in that locker room have been in tight situations before and really handled it extremely well.”
Waite said the thing he noticed the most about his pupil was his body language, and the assurance with which he played.
“I’m impressed, but not surprised. And quite proud; this is going to make him a better goalie, there’s no doubt about that, it’s experience you can’t buy anywhere,” said Waite, who previously tutored a pair of Stanley Cup-winning netminders in Chicago. “He had the weight of the country on his shoulders, and he focused on all the right things.”
It’s not clear when Price will return to action, but it’s a safe bet it will be this week – the Habs play against Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on Wednesday, then travel to Pittsburgh to take on Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby on Thursday.
The first order of business for Price is to get some rest and spend some downtime with his wife and two dogs.
Those games kick off a 22-game sprint to the playoffs, and the Habs’ hopes will hinge on their goaltender.
Though Price didn’t make it to the Games’ closing ceremony, preferring to spend the time with his family, he and teammate P.K. Subban hopped on an NHL charter at 3 a.m. Sochi time, and, after arriving in Newark, caught a lift with Habs minority owner Michael Andlauer, who had chartered a plane to Montreal.
Price brought back several mementos – including his game jersey, signed by all his teammates – and a big pile of Team Canada swag he hasn’t had a chance to sift through yet. (“They gave us quite a bit of stuff when we got there, pins and bags and all sorts of stuff, I’ll have to sort through it when I get home.”)
Though Price said he enjoyed being in the Olympic village with the other athletes, and the overall experience in Sochi, he also sought to keep himself insulated as much as possible from the outside world.
“It’s easier than you think,” Price said with a laugh. But he did manage to take in some of the men’s curling, and he pointed to the women’s hockey final – and Canada’s thrilling 3-2 overtime win – as the signature moment of the Games.
“That was a pretty cool game.”