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Practice Report

Carey Price can thank Jaroslav Halak

Says he 'grew up a bit' after losing Canadiens job to Team Europe goalie six years ago

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

TORONTO -- Six years have passed, and the comparison is no longer relevant.

Yes, Team Canada goaltender Carey Price and Team Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak will face off in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 best-of-3 final starting Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports). And yes, they once competed for the same net with the Montreal Canadiens, a competition Halak won during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he helped the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final.

Price and Halak will compete against each other, just as they did six years ago. But who wins and who loses will not change how each goaltender is viewed, nor will it shed any more light on the decision the Canadiens made to trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues on June 17, 2010 and keep Price. It was a decision widely criticized in Montreal at the time, not so much today.  

But the matchup is relevant to why Price, universally accepted as one of the top goaltenders in the world, and considered by many to be at the top of that list, is here.

In many ways, Halak and his performance in the 2010 playoffs is a big part of the reason why Price has reached these heights.

Video: RUS@CAN: Price stones Ovechkin with a great pad save

"I think I grew up a little bit," Price said Monday when asked how much he has changed since he and Halak were battling for the Canadiens net. "I was still pretty young, early in my career at that point in my life. I just kind of grew up a little bit more."

Price spoke after the Canadiens were eliminated from those playoffs about how being the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, winning the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship, winning the 2007 Calder Cup, and being named MVP of the American Hockey League playoffs and how becoming the Canadiens starting goaltender the following season at age 20, got to his head a little bit.

The ascension was so quick for Price that he believed he had made it. Halak's arrival showed Price he hadn't.

"I saw everyone else going up," Price said in 2010, "and I had plateaued."

The work ethic Price put in place that summer, when he was convinced the Canadiens would trade him until they ultimately traded Halak, is paying dividends now. All he needed was a little push, one he received by watching Halak play while he sat on the bench. 

"When I was sitting on the bench there was a decision that I made; if things weren't going to work out, it wasn't going to be from a lack of effort," Price said after the Canadiens were eliminated from the 2010 playoffs. "I put a lot of effort into the last two months as far as being supportive and just working hard in general."

That hard work has brought Price here with Team Canada after helping his country win a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and after winning the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2014-15.

Price missed most of last season because of a sprained MCL in his right knee, which led to some doubt as to whether he could perform at the World Cup at a level anywhere close to what he did in Sochi or during his historic 2014-15 season. But again, that work ethic he learned six years ago allowed Price to put those doubts to rest.

In three World Cup starts, Price has stopped 92 of 97 shots, a save percentage of .948, and run his winning streak in a Team Canada uniform to 14 games. That includes three games here, five games in Sochi and six games at the 2007 WJC.

Price has allowed 15 total goals in those 14 straight wins. His excellence extends into Team Canada practice, as forward Steven Stamkos learned Monday when he had a wide open net to shoot at, but Price blocked his shot with his stick.

Video: EUR@SWE: Halak stones Backstom on 2-on-1 in overtime

"He just kind of shot it into my stick," Price said with a little grin. "Sometimes, you just get lucky."

Price seems to get lucky a lot in practice, facing some of the best shooters in the NHL. Though he helps sharpen their shooting skills, he can also get in the heads of his own teammates.

"It's really good for you," Team Canada forward John Tavares said, "and it also can be a little frustrating."

Of course, Price's teammates know it is his ability to frustrate opposing shooters that is most important, and Team Europe will need to be sharp in Game 1 to beat him.

Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong, who acquired Halak for the St. Louis Blues from the Canadiens six years ago, suggested Sunday that each goalie will be very aware of who is playing at the other end of the ice during the World Cup final.

Video: CZE@CAN: Price denies Palat with a right pad save

When Halak was asked what he thinks of the matchup with Price, he replied, "I don't."

Perhaps Price doesn't either. But maybe he should.

If it weren't for the goalie at the other end of the ice it's very possible Price would not be guarding Team Canada's net, having realized the potential he showed very early in his career, but which had "plateaued" shortly thereafter.

It took Halak to get Price to start climbing again.

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