- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

Twenty-three years ago Bruce Boudreau and the Baltimore Skipjacks steamrolled into the Calder Cup Finals on an eight-game winning streak.

They faced Sherbrooke, Montreal’s American Hockey League affiliate, and 19-year-old goaltender Patrick Roy, who had joined the team from juniors in time to play one regular-season game before the playoffs. Sherbrooke defeated the Skipjacks in six games.

Last season Boudreau coached the Hershey Bears to a regular-season best 114 points and their second straight Calder Cup Finals appearance. There Hershey met Montreal’s affiliate, Hamilton, and 19-year-old goalie Carey Price, who also had turned pro only weeks before at the end of the regular season.

Price and the Bulldogs denied the Bears’ bid for back-to-back AHL titles, taking the series in five games.

“He’s going to be a good one. And of course it was the stinking Canadiens,” Boudreau said. “I am still ticked at the Canadiens for [the 1985 Calder Cup Finals], but when you are a Toronto boy, you don’t like them much anyways.”

The series win culminated a fantastic year for Price, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft. He was named Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the year for Tri-City. He also backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship and was named the top goalie in the tournament.

Price capped the year with the Calder Cup title, earning playoff MVP honors.

“It’s been pretty quick,” Price said. “It seems like just yesterday that I was playing in that same game that they are playing [yesterday]. It has all come really fast.”

The game Price referred to was the WJHC semifinal between the United States and Canada. A year ago Thursday, Price stopped Peter Mueller in the seventh round of a shootout to propel the Canadiens into the gold medal game.

In Price’s first season as a starter for Tri-City, he received guidance from Washington’s Olie Kolzig. The Capitals goaltender, a member of the ownership group with the Western Hockey League club, spent about half the season with the team during the NHL lockout.

“I needed a way to get on the ice to keep myself in shape in case the lockout ended,” Kolzig said. “I was practicing with those guys and at the same time I was helping out with the goaltenders. It was more of a big brother role than an actual coach.”

Added Price: “We didn’t do a whole lot technically. He would watch the games and take some notes about what he thought I could do better. He was a fun guy to have around the dressing room.”

This season Price has added to his burgeoning resume. He played well for Montreal during preseason camp, and the Canadiens decided to keep him on their NHL roster.

“At first we just thought he was standing on his head the first couple games,” said Capitals forward David Steckel, a member of that Bears team last season. “I didn’t think a kid from juniors could come in and play that large of a role, but he did. It’s good to see him up in the show this year, so we weren’t beat by someone who ended up being lackluster.”

Many expect Price to become the NHL’s next great goaltender. At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, Price takes up all kinds of space in the net. He also earns praise for his sound fundamentals and age-defying poise.

In 18 games for Montreal this season, Price owns a 9-7-2 record with a 2.79 goals against average.

An injury earlier in the season to Cristobal Huet made Price the No. 1 guy for about three weeks, but he has settled back into a reserve role while many Canadiens fans anxiously await his ascension to full-time starter.

“I knew — you could just tell with the way he moved in the net, how big he was, his demeanor,” Kolzig said. “I put myself back in his situation back when I was 18 and he was head and shoulders above me.

“I had no doubts he would be a high draft pick. I didn’t know he was going to make the jump that quick, but for a city like Montreal he has the perfect demeanor. He doesn’t get too excited or too rattled, plus he’s a good kid, he listens and he’s got a respect for the game.”

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