Monday, April 13, 2009

Love Story

Once upon a time, there was a kid whose daddy so wanted him to be a pro hockey goalie that he bought a plane and flew the kid from his northern BC home to practices and games in towns where the kid could meet better competition.

The kid did well. He loved his daddy and wanted to please him, so he worked hard. He was lucky too. He had talent for the job, and he liked doing something he was good at. Soon, he was sixteen, and drafted into junior hockey by the Tri-City Americans.

Leaving home was tough, but the kid was lucky. He ended up living with a great couple who really treated him like their own son. They made his home life easy, so he could concentrate on hockey. Under their care, he bloomed. His team wasn't great, but he did well anyway. When he was eighteen, the Montreal Canadiens went way off the board and picked him at number five in the NHL draft. Habs GM, Bob Gainey, had the world at his feet with that pick, and could have picked any number of talented guys like Staal, Setoguchi, Kopitar or Stastny. But he went with the guy his scouting staff recommended...a lower-ranked goalie who could have gone anywhere in the first two rounds.

In a couple of years, the kid was picked to play for his country in the World Junior Championships. Nobody knew this would be his watershed moment. He led his country to gold in spectacular fashion. Within a year he was playing for the Calder Cup championship in Hamilton and won that too, with MVP honours.

Then the love affair shifted into high gear. The kid went to the NHL camp and wasn't quite the best guy there. He took second seat among the tryouts to a Slovak kid who'd helped the NHL team almost make the playoffs the year before. But the GM loved the Canadian kid already. The boss stepped in and picked the kid for the NHL job.

The kid did well, until he hit his first pro losing streak. Turned out, he couldn't handle it. He cried and got sent to the minors to get his head back on straight. After that, though, he came back strong. The GM even traded the pesky veteran rival to the kid's number-one spot. Everything was great. Until the playoffs. Then, the mental fatigue and thirty pounds of kid-fat he'd accumulated through the year got to him and he couldn't do it. He collapsed and lost the series for his team.

This year, the kid came back strong. Then he got hurt. He came back again, got hurt again. After the second injury, he wasn't ever the same. He acquired the dreaded "Softie-per-game" syndrome. Meanwhile, the Slovak kid he beat out for the job last year stole enough points to get the kid and the team into the post-season. Of course, the GM, now coach, loves the kid and he'll start in net. The Slovak kid won't get a look in until the thing is lost and it doesn't matter.

The kid can make the big saves. He can be huge. But then, when it matters most, there'll be a floater from just inside the blueline that beats him over the glove hand, and that'll be the game. But the GM/coach loves him. He loves him with an unshakeable faith and unrelenting belief. The kid will captain the ship, even if it's bows under, because he is the GM/coach's great love.

I just hope the love is finally requited.


Unknown said...

Anywhere in the first two rounds, really?

In draft previews/rankings, he was ranked #7 in The Hockey News; #10 by ISS, 13th by Forecaster.

Seemed like he was a top-20 guy for sure, top-10 depending on the teams (Looking at Ottawa holding the #9 pick, would they have taken him?)

Howard said...

We'll all love him if he stops the Bruins! Such is the reality of pro sports.

Christopher Sama said...

Staal? Yeah, he's good. I don't like him though... too smug.

AK is a great player, but hasn't yet had to perform under pressure out in the sunshine state.

Statsny is awesome, but he'll injure himself into early retirement.

Price is 21. He might only hit his stride in another couple of years. He looked good at the beginning of the season - hell, he looked great - but those injuries and rushing back for the All-Star game were too much.

If he was mentally exhausted for last year's playoffs, I am deathly afraid to see what happens this time... it's been a mentally exhausting year for all of us - and we've just been watching it all on TV with the flicker and a beer.

Gainey might have pushed Price into the spotlight too quickly. Maybe an extra year in Hamilton would have allowed him to mature a bit more.

But to give up on him now... he still has the potential to be 'The Franchise'. He's a kid who could be great.

I heard reasons why Huet was traded, but I don't think they were good enough... Price might be doing better now if he could lean on a veteran netminder for advice, for support.

Instead he's competing with another kid.

Maybe not the healthiest of situations.

But it's the situation that we have and if you look at what Price has accomplished in his painfully young career, I find it impossible not to support him and have faith that not only can he work through all of this, but that he'll have a long and spectacular career.

Gainey is smart to give him that same confidence and support - and love - that Price received from his parents and his surrogate parents.