Habs star goaltender Carey Price enters NHL/NHLPA assistance program

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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is seeking help, voluntarily entering the NHL's player assistance program.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association said in a release that the 34-year-old star goalie will be away from the team while he takes part in the program. The release did not specify why Price entered the program and said there would be no further comment.

The news came out of the blue. Previously the discussion over Price was whether the native of Anahim Lake, B.C., would recover from off-season surgery to repair a torn meniscus in time to start the season.

Montreal, which made it to the Stanley Cup final earlier this year, opens its 2021-22 campaign next Wednesday at Toronto.

"I didn't see it coming," said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. "To be up front with you, news came to me yesterday. So yeah, it caught me off-guard, yes."

The news comes a day after Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said it would be unlikely that Price would be ready to start the season due to an unspecified illness.

Price's wife Angela cited mental health in an Instagram post showing Price and their three kids.

"Part of the privilege of being in the position our family is in, is that we also get a public platform to show how there is and can be a path for anyone who is struggling," she wrote. "No matter what is on the line, we hope we can communicate the importance of putting your mental health first not just by saying it, but by showing up and doing the work to get better.

"Carey's showing up for himself and our family and making the best possible decision for us."

She added "it's incredibly important for us to show our kids that asking for help and letting yourself be supported by others is not just OK, but encouraged — any time, and under any circumstance."

Bergevin grew emotional when asked about what Price means to him, taking a lengthy pause to regain control.

"It's hard," he said eventually.

The GM said his understanding was that Price would be in the assistance program for a minimum of 30 days.

"From what I was told it would most likely be that, but it's not certain. It could be more," he said.

The assistance program, jointly run by the league and the NHL Players' Association, helps players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and other matters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is a Habs fan, tweeted his support of Price on Thursday night.

"Know that Canadians across the country are wishing nothing but the best for you, Carey — and we’re proud of you for taking care of yourself and putting your mental health first," said Trudeau. "We’ve always rooted for you on the ice, and we’ll continue to root for you off the ice."

Defenceman Jeff Petry spoke about Price's sudden departure after Montreal's 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.

"Our families are close and it's tough when you really judge a book by its cover," said Petry. "He's a guy that comes in every day and you think everything's OK and it's unfortunate that it got to a point. We just wish him the best."

Jake Allen will likely fill Price's role as Montreal's starting goaltender while the superstar attends the program. Allen said he already reached out to Price directly.

"We're more looking for Carey Price the human being than Carey Price the hockey player and the hockey player can wait as long as it takes to get whatever he needs to get his feet back under him," said Allen. "That's all we're caring about in this locker room. Hockey is secondary in this aspect."

The issue of mental health is close to the Canadiens.

Star forward Jonathan Drouin has opened up on his anxiety and insomnia, which prompted him to take a break from hockey last spring during Montreal's playoff push.

"(It's) the elephant in the room sometimes. We don't say anything and it's very personal," said Bergevin. "I salute (them for speaking out) and I'm glad they did. If there's other players in the NHL who have different issues, whatever that is, I think the NHL and NHLPA are really looking at the well-being of their players. I commend them to do that. I think every general manager is very sensitive to that and we are here in Montreal."

Bergevin asked people to support Price's family and respect their privacy.

"I believe better days are ahead for Carey," he added.

With a salary of US$13 million, Price is the Habs' highest-paid player. He has won the Vezina, Jennings, Ted Lindsay and Hart Memorial trophies, as well as Olympic gold with Canada.

Price's ability to focus on the task at hand has made him one of the world's top goalies.

He is used to the hoopla of pro hockey, plying his trade under intense spotlight of the Montreal media. NHL or Olympics, his focus is the same.

"Essentially it comes down to the same thing: stopping pucks," he said during the 2014 Sochi Olympics where he led Canada to gold.

Price has always been able to strip away things that don't matter.

"I've always been really good on focusing things put right in front of me," he said at Sochi. "It really simplifies your mind and helps you focus if you just focus on one thing and try and do really good at that and not worry about anything else."

Asked if it was easy to isolate himself in the Olympic bubble, Price replied: "I live inside a bubble anyway. I don't get into too much about what anybody has to say, really."

Bergevin encouraged hockey players — and the public alike — to seek help when needed.

"Because your hockey career lasts so many years, but you have the rest of your life — your kids, your family — that's the most important thing," he said.

The Canadiens will look to Jake Allen, who is entering his ninth NHL season, in Price's absence. They picked up Sam Montembeault on waivers from Florida on the weekend.

"I'm glad we did," Bergevin said of the Montembeault move, calling it "a safety valve."

The Habs also have 22-year-old Cayden Primeau.

"At least for now, until he's back, I think I feel comfortable to be able start us in with these guys on our roster," said Bergevin, referencing Price.

The Canadiens have been hit hard by change already this season.

Captain and veteran defenceman Shea Weber is out of the picture, dealing with potentially career-ending injuries. Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Tomas Tatar have moved on.

Bergevin said he believes the club has enough leadership in the locker room to get it through.

"I do. I think we have a good group," he said. "Like I mentioned, Webby being here for five years, I think he left a legacy among his teammates — how to be a good pro, how to put his team ahead of anything else. And Carey will be back, I believe. And then we have guys that have been through the grind already.

"So yeah, we do have leadership in this group and I think they'll rise to the occasion — one more time."

With files from Tristan D'Amours in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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