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Gainey Knows Price Under Pressure

From franchise saviour to the second coming of Ken Dryden, Carey Price has avoided no superlatives on his mercurial rise to the ranks of NHL stardom.

In a year where his exploits have been mirrored against those of Patrick Roy in his rookie rise with the Canadiens, who won a Stanley Cup after a surprise Calder Cup in 1986, the expectations placed on Price are so high as these playoffs loom, one must wonder how a 20 year old young man can handle the pressure.

Of course Price is no run of the mill goalie. He defies almost every goalie stereotype with a coolness so alarming, a nonchalance so boring, one could be tempted to check his pulse.

Mountains of hype seem to have little effect on his demeanor, and he seems to know precisely what is being asked of him.

"They do not raise conference title banners in this building", he was quoted as saying earlier this week.

Rivers of ink were spilled in the pre - season as to how the Canadiens should treat such a precious gem of a prospect. Little of it was adhered to. Even Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau felt strongly that Price remain in the AHL and be brought along more slowly.

He made the Canadiens out of camp!

When opinions suggested picking Price's opponents carefully for game , there he was back on October 10, winning his first NHL start against none other than the high flying Pittsburgh Penguins.

Between then and now, Price has had moments of appearing merely human. A pair of consecutive weak games found him back in Hamilton where most figured he'd finish out the season. The Canadiens stated Price needed to play more often while working out some kinks in his game.

That Price was at best average in Hamilton was a surprise. So was his recall after 10 games. So was the trading of Cristobal Huet to Washington to allow Price all the needed room to assume the mentality of a number one goalie.

Like many Bob Gainey moves, fans and onlookers reacted to the news like a deer in the headlights of oncoming doom.

"What the devil is he thinking?", might have been the kindest initial reaction to Gainey's rabbit from a hat.

It now appears that Gainey, not unlike Price in some ways, is quite singular in his approach to sizing up situations.

Gainey, as facts have attested, has assembled quite a crack scouting staff. They look beyond the obvious talent and skill of players for mental attributes that are best described as an edge.

Searching for that uniqueness among young players means peeling back the layers of what it is they do very well, and analyzing what it is that makes them tick as hockey beings. Maturity beyond their young ages, leaderships traits and qualities, personal affronts defeated, work ethic and living habits all make up these background checks. Often when the Canadiens select a player, the word character follows his name.

What Gainey and crew are intent upon finding, is that difference maker between what is a good junior or college prospect, and a professional. The seek the man inside the boy.

Last June for example, when the Canadiens selected Ryan McDonagh in the first round, head scout Trevor Timmins mentioned at one point that the Habs had seen the player compete in over a hundred games in the past few seasons.

They have had a watchful eye on his progression since the age of 16. It was an astounding revelation.

The NHL is about pressure and committment, demeanor and dedication.

The Canadiens scout as if performing vital autopsies on living breathing hockey players, and understand early in a players learning curve what they can and cannot yet aspire to.

We get to see Carey Price perform and be interviewed. He's judged in our eyes on great saves, bad goals and offhand and rhetorical quotes.

Bob Gainey knows what Carey Price eats for breakfast!

Often what we don't see in a player's personal day to day existance are determining factors for team decisions. What we are not privelege to, not only create a nessecitated distance and mystique between fan and athlete, it also creates misunderstandings and misconceptions we have about those players.

We know that Carey Price has shown great promise and looks like the real deal, while giving off the impression that little perturbs him.

Bob Gainey looks at how Price took charge when Cristobal Huet was injured, and how he returned to a quieter more condescending way upon Huet's return. The difference in dressing room and off ice demeanor in Price when he held fort in the starting goalies absense revealed to Gainey that his young goalie was more comfortable and offered better performances when in a starter's role.

It was the difference between waiting to assume command, and taking command for Price. It had much to do with having the room to completely be himself.

It is why Bob Gainey did not err in dealing Huet, while stunning an unsuspecting public with the move.

The GM has concrete idea's of what he was getting into. Fans and followers are surprised by Price's success down the stretch.

Bob Gainey will never be an arrogant man. He is humble, cautious, planning, decisive and studied. Perhaps one day, his quiet and successful methods will no longer come under such fire and rabid questioning.

How does Gainey understand why Price is so effective under pressure?

It might go back to background checks and character.

Carey Price's mother is chief of an Indian reservation. She deals in people's lives on a daily basis.

I do not recall which NHL player said it at the time, but the perspective was a pearl of wisdom. This player, when asked about the pressure most assumed he was under, straightened it out by saying, "What pressure? Pressure is having three children and a pregnant wife, you have a mortage and bills to pay, and you've just lost your job!"

Now that is grounded in perspective.

Hockey is kicks.

Perhaps when you come from a family where parents deal with lives in the balance, this distinction gets a whole a simpler and clearer. Maybe only humble beginnings enable this view, and surely Carey Price has had that.

A bad goal after all, is nothing more than a bad goal. Life or death it is not. The spotlight contorts it's meaning when a million eyes are on it.

When one has the ability and the common sense to place events in their proper perspective, it allows them the composure to deal with them head on.

By shucking off outside pressure like water off a duck's backside, Carey Price focuses on what he needs to do to get the job done.

Maybe when Gainey and staff consider player's off ice habits, they zero in on such traits that would make a kid a winner regardless of which career they would choose. When scraping off the boastful nature and machismo of an athlete, the revealed human being often is the truest picture.

It seems that Gainey has known Price quite well for some time now. His goalie is unique in a position well known for it's rare birds. What pressure does to him, is bring out his best. Challenges are his game.

Gainey, in his regular season ending press conference, made reference to what he saw Price achieve first hand and up close last season in Hamilton. He made a parallel between Price's comfort zone then and now, and traded Huet to enable it happen once more.

The gesture does guarantee the success will be duplicated, it only removes what was seen as one barrier that could prevent it. Gainey knows goalie personalities well enough to manage the area with expertise. He has won with goalies who beat to different drummers before in Dryden, Roy, and Belfour. You could say the man is well schooled.

Tonight, Carey Price's biggest test awaits him.

It makes a lot of us who are just getting to know him very nervous.

Good thing for us is, Carey Price likely doesn't see it that way at all.