Canadiens' goaltender Price a standout even at 14, says his junior GM

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When Bob Tory saw a 14-year-old Carey Price tend goal in Williams Lake, B.C., he plotted a strategy of deception.

The Tri-City Americans had the seventh pick in the 2002 Western Hockey League bantam draft. Tory wanted Price to be available when the Americans made their choice.

"I had a little advantage because back then teams weren't drafting goalies in the first round of the bantam draft very often, but I had already done that when I was with Kootenay (Ice)," Tory told The Canadian Press on Friday.

"I drafted Dan Blackburn in the first round as a 14-year-old. I still remember lots of scouts asking me how does Carey compare to Dan Blackburn as a goalie? Dan Blackburn took us to a Memorial Cup at 16.

"I had to downplay it. So I had to keep telling the scouts 'Carey's good, but he's not at that level.' I was kind of fibbing guys because I wanted to make sure that . . . I didn't want to trade up, but I really wanted to draft Carey and I wanted to make sure he'd be available at seven.

"I'd say things like 'it's risky taking goalies in the first round. It's hit and miss. I don't know if I'd want to do it and have my owner come back (to me) if it didn't work out.'

"I kind of tried to downplay how good he was. I wanted to make sure we'd have an opportunity to draft him and it worked out perfectly."

Price's athleticism, quickness and concentration stood out on a porous Williams Lake Timberwolves team, Tory said, but the young goalie's impassiveness was another valuable asset.

"He never let anything rattle him," the Americans' general manager recalled. "Cool as a cucumber even at that age."

A Montreal Canadiens goaltender is constantly under scrutiny in that market, but Price's inhalations and exhalations will be under the microscope in the Stanley Cup final starting Monday.

Montreal will face either the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders.

Price, a 33-year-old from Anahim Lake, B.C., will be the centre of attention and discussion as a Canadian NHL team attempts to lift the Cup for the first time since the Habs did in 1993.

Based on Price's four foundational years with the Americans and what Tory knows of the man now, Tory feels Price is equipped to handle it.

"To be successful in Montreal, it takes a lot of inner fortitude, no question about that because of the scrutiny, but I don't think you can find a better demeanour than Carey Price," Tory said.

Carrying the Americans to an upset win over the Portland Winter Hawks in the first round of the playoffs at age 16 was transformative for Price, Tory said, but the NHL lockout of 2004-05 also benefited his development.

Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig, an Americans co-owner, spent more time with the junior club and a teenaged Price that season than he would have otherwise.

"Olie and Carey I think built a pretty special bond there as goaltenders," Tory said. "That helped Carey understand the mental side of the game."

Price's response to the Canadiens making him the surprise No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL draft was refreshingly honest: "I wasn't expecting to go this high, but I'll take it."

His father Jerry, a former Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect, flew his young son in a four-seat plane the 320 kilometres from Anahim Lake to Williams Lake three times a week to play minor hockey.

Price's mother Lynda is chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation.

Price's bond with parents and sister Kayla kept him grounded as a junior player, Tory said, and Price's wife Angela and their three young children continue to do so.

"He hasn't changed at all. He's matured into a wonderful person," Tory said. "He's a great father and family man. His parents get a lot of credit obviously for the type of person he is and person he's developed into.

"He was always very humble, an awesome teammate, well respected by his teammates.

"He's a guy that cares about people, genuinely cares. It's real, but he's also very private and comfortable not being in the press.

"As he's developed into a great husband and father and those things, he's still the same guy he was when he was 16 and 17, other than the fact he's got more responsibilities with two little girls and a young boy and the weight of the Montreal franchise on his shoulders."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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