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Paying The Price: Carey’s three-year battle to claim the role of starter

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A chronological journey from surprise draft pick to claiming the starter role with the Montreal Canadiens.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

With his 315th regular season win in the books, Carey Price is now in sole possession of the franchise record for most wins by a Montreal Canadiens goaltender. He passed the legendary Jacques Plante to claim the prestigious title, and it doesn’t look like he will be stopping anytime soon, given that he has just begun his brand new eight-year contract. When all is said and done, Price will not only have shattered the franchise record, it is quite possible that he will be listed among the best in NHL history.

Eyes On The Prize published a series of articles entitled Road to 315, looking at important milestones Price achieved in his journey to achieving these wins, from his stiff competition against Jaroslav Halak, to the moments where he passed Jose Theodore, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, and finally Plante for the wins title.

But Price’s journey to the top had to start somewhere. Before the road to 315 could officially begin, there were three years of battling and building his reputation and competency prior to even making the Canadiens. Even after his first win there were a few hurdles to jump over, including a return to the AHL.

Here is a chronological journey through various milestones leading up to Price establishing himself as the starter for a generation of the Montreal Canadiens.


  • July 30, 2005: Drafting at number five overall, the Montreal Canadiens pick goaltender Carey Price of the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans. With players such as Anze Kopitar on the board, it was quite the surprise pick for Montreal, who went for the best player available rather than filling a position of need. Considering that they already had José Théodore, Cristobal Huet, Jaroslav Halak, and Yann Danis in their organization, questions were immediately asked as to how wise it was to go with that selection.

2005-2006

  • September 9, 2005: Price takes part in his first game wearing a Canadiens jersey as part of the team’s rookie tournament against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He stopped 26 of 29 shots in a losing effort by the score of 3-2. All eyes during the tournament were on Junior sensation Guillaume Latendresse, however, drafted right after Price in the 2005 entry draft.
  • September 18, 2005: Price takes part in his first NHL pre-season game against the Atlanta Thrashers. He split goaltending duties with Yann Danis, who started the game and played the first 30 minutes. Price was perfect in his half of the game, stopping all nine shots he faced from a Thrashers squad that was playing without many of its top stars, including Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images
  • September 26, 2005: Price is cut by the Canadiens and returns to Junior. “It’s certain that I am upset. But it isn’t really surprising, I was kinda expecting it. I’m going to rejoin my Junior team in Tri-City and get back to work.”
  • December 17, 2005: Facing his second major disappointment of the season, Price is cut from Team Canada ahead of the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship, losing out to Justin Pogge and Devan Dubnyk.
  • March 31, 2006: The Tri-City Americans are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in five games by the Everett Silvertips. Price started all five games, and had a GAA of 2.39 and a save percentage of 0.896.

2006-2007

  • September 28, 2006: Price is the final player cut by the Canadiens at training camp. “It’s been my goal (to play for the Canadiens) ever since I heard my name called at the draft. I don’t know when it will happen, or even if it will happen, but I return to Junior with my objective being to continue improving in order to one day be the number-one goalie for this organization.”
  • January 5, 2007: He leads Team Canada to the gold medal in the WJC, defeating Russia 4-2. After being cut from selection camp the previous year, he spearheaded Canada through the tournament, notably an incredible shootout performance against the American team in the semifinal. He won tournament MVP for his performance, putting up an unreal .961 save percentage and 1.14 goals against average in six games.
  • March 31, 2007: He plays his final Junior game: a 7-2 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds. He gave up six goals on 27 shots and was pulled for the third period. The Thunderbirds eliminated the Americans in six games to advance to the Conference Semifinal. Price is named to the CHL First All-Star Team as well as being named CHL Goaltender of the Year.
  • April 10, 2007: He signs a three-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens and an amateur tryout (ATO) contract for the remainder of the 2006-07 AHL season. Jaroslav Halak is assigned to the Slovak national team for the World Championships, opening a goaltender spot in Hamilton for Price, backing up Danis.
  • April 13, 2007: Price makes his AHL debut for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a 3-1 victory against the Grand Rapids Griffins, in front of the entire Canadiens hockey operations team including Bob Gainey, Julien BriseBois, Claude Julien, Doug Jarvis, and Guy Carbonneau. Price stopped 27 shots, including all 15 shots in a second period peppering. His coach Don Lever had the following to say: “He was really solid in nets. He made himself real big. He didn’t look nervous at all, and if he was, it didn’t seem like it.”
  • June 7, 2007: Price, starting all 22 playoff games, leads the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup championship, defeating the overwhelming favourite Hershey Bears in five games in the final. Price is named playoff MVP, putting up a remarkable save percentage of .936.

2007-2008

  • September 13, 2007: Price arrives to his third training camp with the Canadiens with a plan in mind: “It’s quite obvious that I will do everything I can to stay in Montreal.” Head coach Guy Carbonneau wasn’t convinced: “Being good for one season in the NHL is easy. Being good for 10 to 15 is a whole other story. I rather (Price) be in Hamilton where he will see lots of games, rather than here in Montreal where confidence could become an issue. Also, I want to win, and I will go with the with whom is most likely to guide the team.” Price competed with incumbent starter Huet and backup Halak.
  • October 1, 2007: After a very long training-camp battle, Price was finally selected as the backup to Cristobal Huet, over Jaroslav Halak who was assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, and was set to start the regular season in Montreal. Ultimately it was Bob Gainey who decided that Price would stay: “Not everyone was in agreement, but I made my decision.” Guy Carbonneau had to back-pedal a little bit: “The comments I made a few weeks ago, I made them thinking as a manager and out of concern for Price’s career. But lately I’ve been thinking as a coach who has to win games. We picked Price because, as of right now, we think that, maybe, he will give us a better chance of winning than Halak.”
Montreal Canadiens v Carolina Hurricanes Photo By Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  • October 10, 2007: Price starts his first regular-season NHL game against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Canadiens win the game 3-2, and Price stops all six of Crosby’s shots. Despite the win, Carbonneau sent Huet back in net for the home opener in Montreal.
  • January 5, 2008: Price breaks down in the locker room after giving up five goals, including an overtime heartbreaker against the Capitals. Shaken from a difficult night where the Montreal fans began to boo him after several weak goals, and sarcastically mocking routine saves, the young netminder felt as though he let his team down. He had to be consoled by team captain Saku Koivu in plain sight of reporters.
  • January 8, 2008: Price is assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs after playing 19 games (nine wins, 10 loses of which three were in extra time), maintaining a .907 save percentage and 2.90 goals against average. “I felt it coming for a while now. I don’t know how long I’m gone for, but I intend to be back.”
  • January 9, 2008: He plays his first game of the season for Hamilton, a 3-2 overtime win against the Binghamton Senators, stopping 22 of 24 shots against him.
  • February 2, 2008: He plays his final AHL game, a 2-0 shutout of the Manitoba Moose, stopping 25 shots. In 10 games with the Bulldogs, Price won six games and lost four, with a GAA of 2.69 and save percentage of .896. “I was rusty [at the start] from lack of play, but I got a lot of minutes here and feel better about my game.”
  • February 6, 2008: He is recalled to the Montreal Canadiens for the final time.
  • February 16, 2008: He registers his first National Hockey League shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers, a 34-save performance in a 1-0 win. The only goal of the game was scored by Andrei Kostitsyn with assists by Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov.
  • February 26, 2008: The Canadiens trade starter Cristobal Huet for a second-round pick to the Washington Capitals. Price becomes the de facto starter for the Canadiens in his rookie season. Gainey did not mince words for the reasoning behind the trade: “It’s become very clear to us that it’s time to go with Carey Price. And Jaroslav Halak.”