Eric Comrie was out sick Monday, but the Tri-City Americans had a backup goaltender waiting in the wings to man the net in practice.
Former Americans goalie Carey Price, now the starter for the Montreal Canadiens, strapped on the pads and helped out with the morning and afternoon practice sessions at Toyota Center.
“It’s been six years since I’ve been on the ice here in my equipment,” said Price, who plans to practice all week with the team. “It did feel pretty weird at first, but it felt good to be out there. I’ve been in Montreal for most of the lockout playing 3-on-3. I probably feel like Olie (Kolzig) did when he skated with us (during the 2004-05 lockout). It’s weird being on the other side of the coin.”
The Americans players had no idea Price was coming to town. General manager Bob Tory wanted to keep it a surprise.
“It’s special for our team, for him to come and skate with us.” Tory said. “It’s amazing how time flies. When he walked in here today, it was like he never left. With it being the 25th anniversary of the team, it means a lot to me that he would do this. He is proud that he was a Tri-City American.”
Price, 25, has had some time on his hands lately with the NHL lockout that began Sept. 15. He and fiancé Angela Webber are in town to spend Thanksgiving with her parents, Greg and Alice Webber of Kennewick.
“Bob and Jim (coach Hiller) were real receptive to me coming out,” Price said. “I haven’t been on the ice as a goalie in about a week. It’s nice to come and be part of a structured practice. I’m sure there will be a lot of chirping and razzing out there.”Some of the Americans players were a bit awe struck by Price’s presence at practice.
“It’s exciting to have an NHL All-Star goalie come to practice and get to shoot on him,” said Tri-City forward Connor Rankin. “I haven’t shot on him yet — I’m a little nervous to put that first shot on him. NHL guys shoot at 100 mile an hour, and I’m sure mine’s 60.”
Goalie Luke Lee-Knight, who has been with the team just a week, met Price on Monday morning.
“Bob asked me if I wanted to meet another goalie,” Lee-Knight recalled. “I walked in the room and Bob said, “Luke, this is Carey Price,’ I was at a loss for words.”
Lee-Knight was working with goalie coach Lyle Mast before the afternoon practice, and was looking forward to having Price at the other end of the ice.
“It’s not every day you get to skate with one of your idols,” Lee-Knight said. “He is one of my favorite goalies. This is pretty exciting.”
Lee-Knight, who fancies himself a comedian, thought his teammates might have a bit of luck against Price.
“He hasn’t seriously been on the ice since April, he might be a bit rusty,” Lee-Knight said. “He hasn’t played in this rink in a long time. I’m sure there are new rink boards and he won’t know the bounces. I’m just hoping he has a few bits of knowledge to pass along to a young, aspiring goaltender.”
Bounces or no bounces, the players couldn’t get a puck past Price the first 10 minutes of practice. They knew they were up against someone special.
“Did you see that? He didn’t even move,” came one remark. “Man, he’s good,” came another.”Price can relate to the players excitement.
“I remember when Olie was here,” Price said. “It was exciting to see how he conducted himself and his professionalism. It’s nice to be around young guys with so much energy.”
Though Comrie wasn’t at practice, Price said he met him a few years ago.
“His brother Mike (Comrie) was playing in Pittsburgh and I talked to him then,” Price said. “He seems to be holding the team in there. He has a lot of bright sides. I met a few of the other guys this morning, but everyone who was in my time is gone.”
Price, a 2005 first-round draft pick the Canadians, still was with the Americans when Kolzig and Stu Barnes bought the team in 2005 and was an integral part of helping turn the team in the right direction.
“He helped establish that culture for us to change,” Tory said. “There wasn’t really any history or culture then. Carey helped put this team on the map. Not only Carey, but others who passed through here the last 12 years. They were a main ingredient in the success we have had.”
Price never won a banner with the Americans. The first U.S. Division banner came the year after he left.
“They have won a little bit more here. They got rid of the dead weight, I guess,” Price said with a smile.
With the NHL lockout now at two months, Price said the NHL players have tried to get together for sessions, but it’s not the same as structured practices. As for the lack of a paycheck, Price said he’s doing OK.
“I’ve surrounded myself with the right people when it come to my finances,” he said. “We knew it (the lockout) could be a possibility. The hardest part is not playing. It’s hard to stay motivated.”