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by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – After spending a week running the Canadiens development camp, Martin Lapointe’s real season is about to begin.

Nearly 60 hockey prospects descended on the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard in the past week, all with the shared goal of getting themselves noticed. For some, the event marked their first real contact with the Canadiens organization, a sneak peek at their potential future stomping grounds and the staff they could one day be working with. For others, despite their young age, it was far from their first rodeo with regards to Habs development camps. Even for those who had run the gauntlet before, the latest incarnation of the camp offered some key differences in structure and organization – all designed to help give every player involved the chance to get the most out of their continued development.

Martin Lapointe will spend the next few months packing his bags for trips to see countless Canadiens prospects.

“This year, our goal was to organize only one single camp. We wanted to avoid holding a first one with our prospects at the beginning of the summer and then another after the draft, as used to be the case. Marc [Bergevin] and I worked together in Chicago and we tried to base what we’re doing here on that model in certain ways,” explained Lapointe, who had been with the Blackhawks staff since 2009 before being hired by the Habs in 2011. “But the way we’re doing things now involves organizing our days a little differently. In addition to the training sessions and scrimmages, we’re giving these young guys the chance to attend seminars with sports psychologists, nutritionists and more.

“Obviously it’s a lot of information to absorb in a pretty short period of time, but it’s a process we’re trying to lead our prospects through,” continued Lapointe. “The later we get in the week, the more intense the on-ice sessions become as we try to put these players in specific game situations during practice to help us gauge how they’ll handle themselves.”

As much as they can accomplish at development camp, five days is far from sufficient when it comes to truly getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of every last one of the prospects on hand. It’s for that reason that when the camp finally draws to a close in Montreal, the Canadiens director of player development hits the road, travelling to the four corners of North America and even crossing the pond to Europe to continue learning about his charges. Getting the chance to see these young players in their own environment, suiting up as members of their actual teams, offers not only the opportunity to view them from a very different angle as players, but also to take the time to interact with them and get to know them as people.

“My job will be to go and see all the players that have been drafted by the Canadiens, whether in Junior, at the university level, or over in Europe,” said Lapointe, who will also be spending a week in Hamilton to observe the Bulldogs. “This year, I’m going to start filming them with my iPad so that directly after a game I can go speak with them and we can go over some sequences together. It’ll make life a lot easier since I won’t have to wait to get a DVD from the coaching staff.

“I’ll also be speaking with their coaches to try and learn as much as I can about the players – things like how they get along with their teammates and how they carry themselves in a team atmosphere,” he added. “It’s even more important to do that with the guys we just drafted since I don’t know them as well yet.”

All these elements help surround Canadiens prospects like never before, allowing the work of Lapointe and his team to be of huge use to the organization when the time comes to weigh in on the progress of the players. While such practices are now becoming the standard among NHL franchises in dealing with up-and-coming players, that certainly hasn’t always been the case.

Having personally already experienced the ups and downs that come for a young player with his sights set on an career at hockey’s highest level, the 39-year-old former NHL forward is quick to admit how much he would have benefited from a similar setup as a teen taking his first strides in the QMJHL.

“When I was coming up, there wasn’t anything close to this when it came to dealing with young players and prospects. On top of that, in those days, I didn’t speak English either and when I arrived in the United States I was tossed into a world where I didn’t know anyone. It was definitely tough to integrate myself into the rest of the group,” admitted Lapointe, the Detroit Red Wings’ first round selection at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s obviously a great feeling for a young player to see that the team that drafted you is taking an active interest in you and your development. It’s important mentally because should they ever start going through any tough moments in their careers, we can at least be there to help boost their morale and give them some tips and pointers that can help them out.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Justin Fragapane.

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