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Group work

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – The majority of Michel Therrien’s troops won’t be back in town until September, but the gym at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard is still a very busy place.

Five days a week, a select group of veterans and young guns who’ve elected to spend part or all of the summer in Montreal, gather on the South Shore for a group workout designed to gradually prepare their bodies for the rigors of an 82-game NHL season.

The group, led by Canadiens strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard, consists of veterans Torrey Mitchell, Paul Byron, and Alexei Emelin, along with prospects Simon Bourque and Nikita Scherbak. For his part, Tomas Plekanec was a regular participant before recently heading home to the Czech Republic where he’ll continue working out ahead of the World Cup of Hockey which begins in mid-September.

“We’re got a really good group of guys. Having veterans like Pleky, Mitchell, Byron and Emmy is really good for the young kids like Bourque and Scherbak. They get a chance to see just how hard the veterans are working. Take Pleky, at 33 he’s still one of the hardest workers around and he wants to get even better. The goal is to mix older and younger players. It’s an important experience for the prospects,” said Allard, who is currently putting his charges through circuit training involving plyometrics, powerlifting and additional explosion-related exercises.

In Bourque and Scherbak’s cases, it marks the second-straight summer the pair has elected to train on the South Shore in the company of their more experienced counterparts. They're essentially building off lessons learned at development camp together.

“For me, training here is huge. As a young kid, coming in and working out with guys like Pleky is just a privilege. He’s a good role model for anyone. I’m always learning something new,” said Bourque, who made his pro debut with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps last season following another strong QMJHL campaign with Rimouski. “As a young guy, you want to apply what you learn. What I’ve done is just come in here every single day, pick up on all the little things and try to keep progressing. It’s always fun coming to the gym in the morning.”

Unlike Bourque – a Longueuil native who resides in nearby Saint-Lambert – Scherbak is thousands of miles away from his home in Russia. His decision to remain in Montreal for at least the next couple of months had everything to do with giving himself the opportunity, like Bourque, to train with and learn from NHL players.

“I didn’t have a great year last year, so I have to push myself and have a great offseason. I need to get ready for September and show my best performance. I need to be in the best shape of my life heading into the year. So, I told my parents that I’d decided to stay in Montreal to work out and keep learning,” said Scherbak, a keen observer of Emelin’s efforts off the ice these days.

“He’s probably the biggest example for me in the gym, and one of the hardest working guys in the NHL. It’s scary how strong he is. You look at him work out and ask yourself, ‘What have I done today [compared to that]?’ It’s always, ‘I need to do more.’ He’s going to push me and I think I’ll get much better,” added Scherbak, after the veteran Russian rearguard joined the group in late July following a four-week stint in South Florida where he trained with Alex Galchenyuk.

While the two future Habs are inspired by the work their elders are putting in session after session every single week, Byron says it really is a two-way street. The new full-time Montreal resident insists Bourque and Scherbak’s commitment and intensity in the weight room gives players like him a boost, too.

“Having Simon and Nikita around, they push you every day and they’re pushing for roster spots themselves. It keeps you on your toes and makes sure you’re working extra hard in the gym. Young guys these days are more ready than ever, more mature. As a guy like me whose spot is always up for grabs by somebody, you have to be ready to go come training camp,” said Byron, who signed a three-year contract extension with the Canadiens in February. “The young guys work hard and fit in really well. Everyone’s having a good time.”

Plekanec was certainly enjoying himself before departing Montreal last Saturday. It marked the second year in a row that the 11-year NHL veteran elected to train in Brossard for a good portion of the offseason.

“I think I’ll be doing this from now on. I didn’t have the luxury of training with a strength coach like Pierre when I was younger, someone who can really show you what you need to do and take care of you. It’s a huge advantage for me. Pierre knows me so well. I’ve been using his programs forever,” said Plekanec, the second-eldest player on the Canadiens’ roster behind defenseman Andrei Markov – a workhorse in his own right. “It’s fun to compare myself to the young guys now, seeing how they train and how I trained before as a younger player.”

There’s no denying the chemistry Allard and his pupils have managed to build while sweating it out in the gym on an almost daily basis. They all genuinely enjoy each other’s company, even if socializing is generally kept to a minimum in between sets.

“It’s always nice to work out with the same group of guys. You get to know each other. You come to the rink and see the same faces. We are a family right now,” concluded Scherbak. “We have such a nice atmosphere in the gym. It’s good to have these guys around.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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