Mike Babcock described Carey Price as “big and square and soft.” And in this case, they were all compliments.
Before the Olympics, goaltending was Team Canada’s biggest worry – the one supposed weakness on a men’s squad overflowing with talent. But Price is showing why those concerns are starting to look overblown.
In shutting out the United States on Friday, Price churned out 31 saves and looked as stingy as a netminder could be with rebounds – which is what the Canadian head coach is getting at when he calls his goalie soft. The pucks just seem to get lost in Price’s equipment like loose change between sofa cushions.
Every time the Americans went to the net looking for a rebound, Price gave them a faceoff.
“I thought he was great,” Babcock said. “He gives your team confidence.”
Price’s ability to deliver in big games was something Team Canada brass thought a lot about heading into the tournament. The 26-year-old has only seen moderate NHL playoff success with the Montreal Canadiens, showing glimmers of what he can do when he pushed the Boston Bruins to Game 7 in 2008 and 2011. But his calm under fire is what got Team Canada’s attention.
“It’s like anything, you build a résumé over time in your career,” Babcock said. “And he’s done that over time, I think he’s been an excellent goalie in the NHL.”
That Price is one cool customer is not new. His almost dispassionate approach to puck-stopping has been known beyond Canada since the 2007 world junior championship. At his most effective, he is emotionless and relaxed. But Price might be taking his own unflappability to new levels at the Olympics.
His biggest cough-up all game against the U.S., where he uncharacteristically booted a puck to the blueline in the third period, seemed shaky but was intentional. Seeing an opening to clear the puck out of harm’s way himself, Price seized the moment. It was a sign of how sure he is of his game right now.
And, naturally, he shrugged it off later. “I’m really confident in that group playing in front of me,” he said. “There’s a lot of winners in that dressing room, they all know how to play in tough situations.”
So why doesn’t he ever look stressed? The Canadians are “comfortable playing uncomfortable,” he said.
And there were definitely moments the U.S. was making the defending gold medalists uncomfortable. When Canada scored its only goal early in the second period, the Americans began to swarm. Minutes later, Paul Stastny was able to jam a puck under Price, but it squirted through the crease wide of the net. “I tried to cover it and he just kind of speared it out of there and it skittered across,” Price said. “Hockey is a game of inches and a game of bounces – and, fortunately, we got the one [bounce] tonight.”
When Canada faces Sweden for gold on Sunday, it will be a matchup of two teams riding hot goalies. “He made some great saves where it would have changed the game,” defenceman Duncan Keith said of Price. “But he was there when we needed him.”
A few Canadian players said they were familiar with Price’s demeanour having faced him before in the NHL, but playing in front of him has only taken that further.
“He’s so calm and composed back there,” forward Patrick Marleau said. “It’s nice – nice to have. He was big the whole night for us.”
The shutout was the most important game of Price’s career. But when he faces Sweden for gold, he knows it will be his biggest test yet. And for a country that has worried about how the goaltending would fare in Sochi, it’s not one he can fumble.
“I’m just soaking in this moment right now,” Price said. “It’s fun. This is the whole reason we play this sport.”