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Cool, Calm, Carey

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

MONTREAL — It's said Ron Hextall used to lock himself in a room before big games to shriek at the top of his lungs.

Jeff Hackett would darkly warn teammates of the bloody consequences of fiddling with his goaltending gear.

To say nothing of the deeply bizarre Gilles Gratton, who claimed to be the reincarnation of a Spanish conquistador and once pulled himself from a game because the stars were improperly aligned.

Let's face it: Those who don the tools of ignorance and willingly stand in the way of large men with sticks and airborne bits of vulcanized rubber are necessarily a little odd.

But in the case of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, he of the Zen-like placidity and heavy-lidded languor, the weirdest thing is he's not very weird at all.

There are no pregame rituals, no evident superstitions and no obvious quirks or zaniness.

The default expression on his broad, smooth-skinned face is a mix of bemusement and serenity as he sits in the far corner of the Habs' opulent dressing room — his stall sits below a photo of Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy — large dark eyes taking in his surroundings.

That he can be so composed, level-headed and, well, normal in a city that eats its goaltenders raw makes it all the more remarkable.

He may be one of the few people on the planet who could use a prescription to increase his blood pressure.

"I don't know," Price said recently when asked about his demeanour. "I guess it's because I grew up in the middle of nowhere. There's not a lot to get excited about. And I think a lot of it comes from my parents and the way they raised me."

Price was raised in Anahim Lake, B.C., a community in the northern Chilcotin wilderness so tiny it barely rates a dot on most road maps.

His mother, Lynda, is the chief of the Ulkatcho band and his non-native father, Jerry, a former minor-league goaltender who once bought a plane to fly Price to elite-level hockey in Williams Lake, B.C., 320 kilometres away, is a career consultant and part-time goalie coach with his son's former junior team, the Tri-City Americans.

"Carey's always been calm like that, even when we were little, but it's probably what's gotten him to where he is," said Keaton Ellerby, a Florida Panthers first-round draft choice, who is Price's cousin and close pal (Price's hockey bloodlines are first-rate; Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan is also a second cousin).

It's tempting to use the convenient stereotype of his mother's aboriginal roots to explain his temperament — and the outdoorsy Price is certainly proud of his Carrier Nation heritage — but Ellerby, whose father, Calvin, is Jerry Price's first cousin, said that's only part of the story.

"My dad's constantly telling Carey he's the spitting image of Jerry on the ice," 20-year-old Ellerby said. "He looks like he's half asleep out there, but he still stops pucks. I think it's something he's picked up from his dad."

Even in this milquetoast era of minor eccentrics and neurosis-lite goalies (attribute it to the professionalization of goaltender coaching and role models such as unusually normal Martin Brodeur, the doyen of the league's No. 1 netminders), 21-year-old Price stands apart by his almost preternatural calm.

Typically no more than content after victories, Price often is only marginally less so after losses — although if he is angry his eyes turn flinty — answering questions in the same relaxed drawl.

"I think it's a strength of mine, I don't put too much pressure on myself," Price said.

That signature outlook has allowed Price to remain tranquil enough to see his way through the first significant bumpy patch of his career. Last season's NHL playoffs gave a strong taste of failure to a player who to that point had piled up only successes: WHL goalie of the year, fifth overall NHL draft pick, world junior hockey championship most valuable player and Calder Cup MVP.

In addition to possessing the right admixture of temperament, talent and breeding, this is a young man who has now acquired an understanding of self-motivation and toil, pushing himself physically and psychologically to turn promise into accomplishment.

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