Montreal star Carey Price steps away for mental health help

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FILE – Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price speaks to reporters during an end of season news conference in Brossard, Quebec, in this Monday, April 9, 2018, file photo. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has voluntarily entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Association joint player assistance program, a stunning announcement Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, less than a week before the season begins and just three months after he backstopped Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final.(Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

MONTREAL (AP) — Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has voluntarily entered the NHL/NHL Players’ Association joint player assistance program, a stunning announcement Thursday less than a week before the start of the season and just three months after the former NHL MVP backstopped Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final.

The league and players’ union said the 34-year-old Price will be away from the team while he takes part in the program. The union did not specify why he entered the program, but Price’s wife, Angela, cited mental health as a reason in an Instagram post showing Price and their three children.

“Part of the privilege of being in the position our family is in, is that we also get a public platform to show how there is and can be a path for anyone who is struggling,” she wrote. “No matter what is on the line, we hope we can communicate the importance of putting your mental health first not just by saying it, but by showing up and doing the work to get better. Carey’s showing up for himself and our family and making the best possible decision for us.”

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said Price would be in the program for at least 30 days. He said the news caught him by surprise, but he encouraged everyone to seek help when needed.

“Because your hockey career lasts so many years, but you have the rest of your life — your kids, your family — that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his support of Price on Thursday night.

“Know that Canadians across the country are wishing nothing but the best for you, Carey — and we’re proud of you for taking care of yourself and putting your mental health first,” Trudeau said. “We’ve always rooted for you on the ice, and we’ll continue to root for you off the ice.”

The issue of mental health among professional and amateur athletes has grown in prominence over the past year, with tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles among those citing it as the reason they stepped away from certain competitions or events.

The issue certainly is familiar to the Canadiens. Star forward Jonathan Drouin has opened up about his anxiety and insomnia, which prompted him to take a break from hockey last spring during Montreal’s playoff push.

”(It’s) the elephant in the room sometimes. We don’t say anything and it’s very personal,” Bergevin said. “I salute (them for speaking out) and I’m glad they did. If there’s other players in the NHL who have different issues, whatever that is, I think the NHL and NHLPA are really looking at the well-being of their players.”

The NHL and NHLPA started the player assistance program in 1996, with players able to call a confidential phone line. The jointly funded group assists players and their families with mental health, substance abuse and other matters. Counselors are available in each NHL city.

Price’s announcement rippled across the NHL.

“The amount of people this will impact and help by a guy of this magnitude coming out and saying he needs help will be astronomical,” former Montreal forward Dale Weise said.

The news comes a day after Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said it would be unlikely that Price would be ready for the start of the season as he recovered from an unspecified illness. Price is also recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Price was extraordinary in leading the Canadiens on an unexpected run to the Final over the summer, where they lost to Tampa Bay in five games. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in 2015 and he has won Olympic gold for Canada.

Montreal initially expected Price to be ready for the start of camp. Instead, the Canadiens are expected to start the season with Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault as their goaltending tandem, with Cayden Primeau also available.

Montreal is already dealing with change: Captain and veteran defenseman Shea Weber is dealing with potentially career-ending injuries. Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Tomas Tatar have moved on.

Montreal opens the season Wednesday at archrival Toronto. Bergevin said he believes the team has enough leadership in the locker room to get through the adversity.

“I do. I think we have a good group,” he said.

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