In a lot of ways, Carey Price’s official title for his summer sporting passion is the same as his unofficial position in the winter.
In warmer months, Price bops around his home province on the British Columbia Rodeo Association circuit taking part in the team roping event with his buddy Wade McNolty. The short saddle strokes of team roping go like this: a steer is released from a chute and one cowboy, the header, is responsible for roping the animal’s head and turning it 90 degrees, allowing the second cowboy, known as the heeler, to ride in and rope the hind legs. As you would expect, this is all done as quickly as possible.
McNolty is the header, Price is the heeler, which, when you swap out one vowel, is precisely the role he played as the Habs’ healer last season. While rodeo and hockey might at first blush seem as different as a horseshoe and a skate, Price noted there is some overlap between his two positions.
“Goaltending and heeling are pretty similar because you have to be able to read what’s going to happen before it happens,” he said.
I caught up with Price recently because he is one of 25 players profiled in a book my THN colleague Ryan Kennedy and I are co-authoring called Young Guns II, set to be released under The Hockey News banner in the fall. Among the things we touched on was the satisfaction and peace of mind Price gets from spending the off-season chasing around steers and soaking in the sun.
“It’s fun to go to the small towns on a weekend and hang out with all my friends and try to make a check like everyone else,” he said.
The BCRA bills itself as an amateur/semi-pro circuit, so as you’d expect, the checks are certainly nothing like the ones Price collects on his $2.75-million salary with Montreal. He certainly earned every penny last year, tying Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo for the league lead in wins with 38. Because Price was drafted fifth overall by the Habs in 2005, won WJC gold in spectacular style in ’07, then earned playoff MVP honors in the American League with the Hamilton Bulldogs just months after that, Price is one of those guys who seems like he’s been around forever and must be about five years older than he actually is. It’s hard to believe he’ll turn just 24 when he celebrates his birthday next Tuesday.
Speaking with him, you get the sense Price felt like his own head was spinning at times during the ups and downs of his first three years in a hockey-mad city. Just as it’s not hard to forget how young Price really is, it’s also easy to overlook the fact that his roots are riding horses in a remote central B.C. community of less than 400 people.
“Twenty years old as a starter playing in Montreal, that’s a big step coming from Anahim Lake,” he said. “You have to be careful, because it takes time to mature and be able to carry yourself. I think a lot of the first three years was just learning how to manage everything.”
With four years under his belt buckle now, Price really seems to have sunk into himself. He acknowledges that at times during those early years in Montreal, he felt the pressure to alter who he was a bit in an attempt to blend into his big, bright new surroundings. But that issue has been roped in.
“You get a hard time because I’ll show up to the rink in a dirty 4-by-4 and cowboy boots,” he said with a chuckle. “But at the end of the day, that’s who I am.”
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