"If you are not going to play with heart, stay home. We don’t need you here.”
These are thye words that Andrei Markov supposedly uttered to Carey Price after a particularly shattering loss in late January this past season.
Today is August 23rd and as I settle back into the usual rhythm after trading backpacking for backlighting for a few days, I hear echoes of the quote again.
When I left, I was near certain that a return home would be coincident with a morning spent reading about Carey Price's new contract with the MOntreal Canadiens. After all, Carey is the only player of consequence left to be signed and Montreal is the NHL outfit that he will play with this season. But instead of a torrent of opinion and salary cap implications, there was vacuum. Instead, the only news of Canadiens goatending was of Cedrick Desjardins being traded. The only new of Carey Price was from recent rodeo activity.
To me this is troubling. Not only because this thought-to-be simple contract negotiation drags into one more week, but also because of the stories being rustled about our young cowherd.
January, you know is not that long ago. And January was never the first time that our starting goalie's workout habits were called into question. In a league where players now busy themselves with more training over the summer months than the winter ones, I find it somewhat disconcerting that the player Markov would have identified 7 months ago as among the most in need of a solid summer of training is now playing on horses.
Now, a stray story about a hometown rodeo appearance is not evidence for indictment. (And on the bright side it endorses his natural athleticism, as winning as a rookie in this event can't be easy).
A rodeo event that took up a couple of evenings isn't cutting into training. He could still be doing drills day and night for all we know. My own concern is that Carey might not yet quite grasp that he needs to improve and that in order to improve he must set about doing the hard work.
This is by no means meant to single Carey out. All athletes need to improve from their pre-pro levels if they want to find sustained success. Patrick Roy may have waltzed to a Conn Smythe in his first attempt, but it was the honing of his technique and his work at improving that allowed him to win the most games in NHL history. Hasek was a talented out-of-leaguer, but he had to practice and practice upon his North American arrival to become the stopper he was.
I find it unlikely that even as easy-going a character as Price could miss this. I'm sure he's aware that work needs to be put in. Then my question is: when? The summer of 2008 was fishing, rodeo and fun at home, last summer too. Is this summer another rest from a long season?
Every player at this level got here through a passion for winning and bacause they made an early habit of doing just that. The passion for winning is within all high-level athletes, I'm sure. There's no concern there. None at all. The heart, the passion that I'm worried about (and perhaps Markov too) is the passion to make this sport of hockey the all.
If hockey was the all, would a player risk injury in the off-season? Would a player eschew the top-tier training that could be found in his new hometown or other bigger centres?
My holiday readin included a book by Gare Joyce about the world of NHL scouting. It deals comprehensively with young players and their roads to the NHL. In it, there are stories of all kinds, including those of players whose hearts never doted on the sport they excelled at. Players who ended up in hockey with eyes for football, golf, other pursuits.
I'd never really considered that Carey Price wasn't a hockey player through and through. I've been hard on him getting starts he needs to earn rather than inherit. I've been worried that he gets bored during games and wants to be part of the whole game.
The stories of other juniors, the lingering contract talks, the pursuits he clearly so loves (and can't talk enough about) in the summer. I'm wodering now.