MONTREAL - With the start of the regular season on the horizon, the Canadiens took time out on Monday to spend some quality time together away from the rink.
Claude Julien's troops kicked off the week with a trip to the Eastern Townships, taking a bus ride from the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard to Bromont for an off-ice workout before partaking in team building activities designed to encourage communication, teamwork, and healthy competition.
Split into four separate groups - green, red, blue, and black - players began their day with a demanding 30-minute hike up a mountain. Once at the top, groups went head-to-head in a series of ice breakers and small group challenges. After making their way back down, the boys stopped at Domaine Château-Bromont, where they assembled Napoleon barbecues, took a lesson in grilling from Provigo's corporate chef, Martin Patenaude, and proceeded to grill their own meals.
"It's nice, especially at the end of training camp. We've been practicing pretty much every day here on the ice and playing games, so it's definitely nice to have a day off the ice to hang out and have a productive day," said Brendan Gallagher, who helped lead Team Blue to victory in the ultra-competitive barbecue-building event - along with Tomas Plekanec, Charles Hudon, Al Montoya, Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner. "Definitely just to get out in the sunshine, enjoy beautiful Quebec and take it all in, I think we all enjoyed it."
Gallagher's Team Blue teammate, the 29-year-old Alzner is just one of many new faces to join the Canadiens' fold this year. In his mind, Monday's itinerary offered up the perfect way to learn a little bit more about his new teammates and to let his personality show as well.
"It's definitely different than anything I've done before. Just when you think you're done something, they surprise you with something else. It's actually cool to see guys cooking. It's just a different side of everybody, a little bit more of a homey side, which is kind of nice," mentioned Alzner, whose freshman campaign in Montreal will be his 10th in the NHL ranks and first outside of the District of Columbia. "I have fun with challenges, like the stuff we did today. It's right up my alley. I love to compete. I got to see the way guys delegate. It's just cool to see what everyone is all about."
The day was designed with exactly that in mind, according to assistant coach Dan Lacroix.
"We talked earlier in the summer as a coaching staff and Claude [Julien] had this date in mind. For us, it was just a matter of getting the guys together, talking about some of the objectives we have for the season, how we're going to get there, putting an emphasis on working together, and on everybody having a role and being important. I think by doing so many activities, it was a good way to illustrate that," explained Lacroix, before going on to shed some more light on the different events themselves.
"You're looking for two things: you want it to be fun and competitive, because whenever guys are challenged, they rise up and want to beat their teammates. Having a team-based challenge is always a fun way to do it. You also want the guys to communicate, to organize themselves in a short amount of time, and to take the lead and run with it, and I think that guys did that. They did a great job and we got the most out of it," he added.
Alzner made a point of stressing just how valuable retreats like these can prove going forward.
"This is some of the most important time we spend together in the year, at the beginning when you get a chance to forge some good friendships and build that team atmosphere," mentioned the veteran blue-liner. "Everyone's still relaxed right now. You don't have the pressure of a game coming up the next day. It's still just a lot of having fun. This is good stuff and it's an amazing place to be, too. It gets us to appreciate where we're living a little bit more."