Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis was like a kid in a toy store following his team’s game-day skate ahead of their game against the New York Islanders Friday night. St. Louis was the kid (pre-Amazon!) who finally found his the toy he’s wanted for so long but couldn’t find wherever he searched. After 74 regular season games and for the first time since July 7, 2021, St. Louis and the Canadiens finally have that gift they’ve waited so long for: Carey Price.
For the first time in 282 days, the former fifth overall pick of the Canadiens in 2005, who won Olympic gold in 2014 and helped Canada capture the 2016 World Cup of Hockey one year after winning the Hart, Vezina, Jennings Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award, and the backbone of the Montreal Canadiens for the last ten years, Carey Price, will be back between the pipes.
“He’s going; he’s going tonight,” said a giddy St. Louis who clearly has been waiting to say that about Price since he was hired as interim head coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 9.
As Price’s return became more of a reality than the pipe dream it seemed like when St. Louis was hired, some fans and media have been asking: “What’s the point?”
There are plenty of reasons why this is good for not just Price himself but for the Montreal Canadiens going forward past this season. If Price can prove he’s even remotely close to the Price the Canadiens and the NHL have grown accustomed to, the Canadiens will know that they have an asset to keep, or if Price so chooses, to trade away for cap flexibility. On Friday though, St. Louis wasn’t worried about the future or what if’s but instead that the media and fans realize how much this means to Carey Price the goalie and the person after a trying nine months that saw him undergo surgery for a torn meniscus and later bravely check himself into the bravely checked himself into the NHL Player Assistance Program on October 7.
Since rejoining the team on Nov. 9, it’s been a frustrating series of starts and stops in his rehab and for this moment to finally be here, is more valuable to Price than anyone can imagine.
“I think Carey wants to prove to himself with the injury he’s had, that he can come back,” St. Louis pointed out. “I think his summer’s going to be different if he can prove that to himself and next year will probably be different too. I think it’s a plus for everyone.
Carey’s puts a lot of work in. I think to be in this league a long time, there’s so much work that goes into it. The fans—they see the finished product every night, they don’t… There’s a saying and I truly believe it, I have this sign in my house, that champions are built when no one’s looking. For an athlete, you have to really take care of that and, in the summer, get up and get your work done… Carey’s done that all year, I think, to try to get to this.”
"We're very happy to have him. I think it'll give the team a boost. I'm looking forward to seeing it.” pic.twitter.com/HhfBdzLtNb
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 15, 2022
Price’s longtime teammate and good friend Brendan Gallagher concurred and couldn’t be more thrilled for Price to finally be playing.
“It’s been a long, long road for him, so he’s eager to get in there,” Gallagher said. “It’s nice to see him again on gameday. He’s already that frame of mind down there—he’s getting ready, doing what he does that I’ve seen so many times throughout the years here—and it’s going to be exciting to see him again. It’s something he’s worked incredibly hard for, so in front of him we’ve got to give him a good effort and hopefully find a way to win a hockey game.”
Obviously, this will be the first time St. Louis has experienced a Carey Price start at the Bell Centre since St. Louis became a member of the Montreal Canadiens so as he pointed out, until now he’s never truly understood what Price means to Canadiens fans.
“I think I have a good idea (of Price’s status in Montreal), but I might really feel that tonight,” Martin St. Louis said. “I understand, when I played, what he meant for the franchise. Did I really understand what he meant for the fans? I don’t know—I didn’t really live here, I didn’t really experience that. You could see it some games playing against him maybe, but… I just wasn’t around. But I think if I’m not sure, it’ll probably get reinforced tonight.”
Yes it will. In a normal season if the Montreal Canadiens were playing a game at the Bell Centre in mid-April, it would be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season has been anything but normal though for the Habs and their fans but tonight when No. 31 is introduced, it will feel normal again, even if it isn’t a playoff game.