TORONTO - Not only will Carey Price be in goal for the Montreal Canadiens season opener, he'll be sporting a different look.
The Habs No. 1 goalie was wearing a new mask at Thursday's morning skate that pays tribute to his rodeo roots—with a bucking bronco on each side over top of the team's logo. It has the word "Price" along the bottom.
The 23-year-old was once again in the spotlight after missing Wednesday's practice with the flu. He didn't speak with reporters after Thursday's skate, but coach Jacques Martin pronounced him ready for the opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I asked him how he felt and he's getting his strength back," said Martin. "I feel that he's ready to go."
There is no member of the Canadiens who will be under more scrutiny this season than Price, who was handed the No. 1 job over the summer when the organization dealt away playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.
Even though he's ready to play in the opener, Montreal will be without some other key players. Winger Mike Cammalleri is sitting out a one-game suspension while defencemen Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik are each recovering from knee injuries.
Rookie Lars Eller will replace Cammalleri on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. The 21-year-old Dane was acquired from St. Louis in the Halak deal and will be playing in just his eighth career NHL game.
"I'm going to go out there with the same intentions I do every game no matter what line I'm on," said Eller. "I'm not going to play any different. Same routines, same everything."
The Leafs will start J-S Giguere in goal and are looking to win their first home opener since beating Montreal 2-0 on Oct. 7, 2000. Toronto coach Ron Wilson suggested that it's easier to start the season on the road, although his Canadiens counterpart didn't agree.
"That's a very good quote by Ron," said Martin. "That's his department."
The Maple Leafs head into the season hoping to end a playoff drought that dates back to 2004.
As a result, they've turned to a pair of journeyman centres for the bottom two lines rather than prospects who might need some time to get comfortable. Tim Brent and Mike Zigomanis both grew up as fans of the Leafs and are thrilled with the opportunity to play for the team.
For Brent, it marks the first time he's started a season in the NHL. His career includes just 19 games for Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Toronto spread between long spells in the American Hockey League. The 26-year-old never gave up on his dream to be a full-time NHLer.
"A lot of guys have probably looked to go over to Europe to make money and make a long career for themselves over there," said Brent. "But you don't play road hockey as a six-year-old saying you're going to go over and play in the Russian league. You're pretending your Eddie Olczyk or Wendel Clark (or) Doug Gilmour, guys that are Maple Leafs.
"That's where you want to be."
Zigomanis can identify. He attended the last game ever at Maple Leaf Gardens as a fan and was wearing a bigger smile than anyone else in the Leafs dressing room on Thursday morning.
"I grew up on the street playing ball hockey and every goal was Game 7 playing for the Leafs and scoring the Cup winner," said Zigomanis. "It was like that growing up with me and my buddies. Yeah, you dream about (playing for the team).
"But is it going to happen? The odds are against you."