KENNEWICK - When the Montreal Canadiens opted to keep goaltender Carey Price instead of Jaroslav Halak last summer, many Canadiens fans were skeptical.
Now they are singing a different tune after Price, a former Tri-City Americans goalie, set a franchise record for games played and helped the Canadiens into the NHL playoffs.
"It was kind of interesting going into last year not knowing what would happen," said Price, who was in the Tri-Cities on Sunday and Monday to play in Olie and Stu's Desert Bash charity golf tournament. "I was really happy with how things went."
Price, 23, and Halak were free agents last summer, but the Canadiens decided to keep their 2005 first-round pick. Montreal traded Halak to the St. Louis Blues and signed Price to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.
"I always take the game seriously," Price said after participating in the long drive competition. "Everybody goes through tough patches. Last year, everything fell right back in place where it was the year before. I was really happy with the group of guys that we have. When you have a group of guys like we have in the locker room, it makes things easier."
Price got off to a shaky start, and even got booed in the preseason, but he soon found his groove.
He played in 72 games and recorded new career highs for wins (38), shutouts (8), goals against average (2.35), and save percentage (.923). He also was selected to his second NHL All-Star Game.
His 38 wins led the NHL (along with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo) and were the most for any Canadiens goalie since Jacques Plante in 1958-59. His mark of 72 games played surpassed the mark of 70 games held by Plante and Gerry McNeil, Montreal's starting goalie through the early '50s.
Price continued his strong play in the playoffs, posting a .934 save percentage, but the Canadiens fell in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round.
"I think all of the guys on the team were happy with how the season went," Price said. "Obviously, it was disappointing losing in Game 7, but at the end of the day, I thought the season was successful."
Price's donation for the Desert Bash auction was an original oil painting by David Arrigo, featuring Price and Canadiens rookie defenseman P.K. Subban.
"I brought it up with him, and David was really friendly about it," Price said. "He has a big heart when it comes to things like that. I can't really thank him enough for what he did. (Sunday) was the first day I saw it. He had to turn it around pretty quickly. He had a lot of work, and he put everything aside to get it done. It speaks volumes of his character."
And Price had nothing but praise for Subban.
"He played really well this year," Price said. "He brings it every night. He's a competitor, and he loves winning. It makes your job easier when guys like that are playing in front of you."
Price, who likes to dabble in team roping in the offseason, roped a couple of calves last week at the Quesnel (British Columbia) Rodeo before arriving in the Tri-Cities. Price also has rodeo connections in the Tri-Cities.
"I've met some really nice folks here I can rope with in Benton City," said Price, who's on the heel end of the calf. "It's harder than it looks. It's easier to catch a puck at 100 mph."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org