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Science, in the name of success

The Canadiens have launched a Department of Sports Science and Performance, led by Pierre Allard

by Joanie Godin, translated by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - When Pierre Allard went back to school at age 30, he probably had no idea that he'd one day be leading a brand-new department in the Montreal Canadiens' organization.

And yet, that's exactly what has happened. Allard, who was the Canadiens' strength and conditioning coach for seven years, will head into the 2017-18 season as the team's Director of Sports Science and Performance, a project he's been working on for two years. In a nutshell, he will be managing a new department whose goal is to ensure that the latest research, technology, and science developments are being used to help Habs players reach their on-ice potential.

Of course, there's the Catapult system, a technology that allows for the collection of a wide array of data on players - both during on-ice practices and off-ice training - but that data is only effective if you know what to do with it. That's where the new department comes in, and it will be assisted by two university students currently working on their Master's project and a third working on a PhD.

"It's an area that's evolving very quickly, too quickly for us to pass up on the opportunity to collaborate with a university on it," explained Allard. "I had my own research project and we wanted to apply it and work on some internal research projects with our data and be able to take our results and immediately apply them to the team."

Allard will leave the "field" work, so to speak, of physical preparation for Canadiens players to Patrick Delisle-Houde, a former captain of the McGill Redmen. The Laval Rocket players will be trained by Guillaume Groulx, who spent six years working for the QMJHL's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Both hold Master's degrees in Sports Science.

On a concrete level, the department's objective will be to improve performance. But in order to do that, the staff and students will have to get to know each player's inner workings. As such, the approach will be highly individualized to each player on the physical, medical, and nutritional levels.

The analysis of all the data from practice and training will complete a "training load" for each player, which Allard's team will use to ensure that the players are at the top of their game at all times.

"We want to use our tools to find their training load, both on the ice and in the gym. The circumstances are different for every player. Some get lots of ice time, others a bit less, and there are players who don't get any - guys who are scratched. Their situation is totally different," Allard outlined. "For those with a lot of playing time, the priority is recovery; for those with less, it's about helping them maintain.

"As for the players who are playing a lot less or who are scratched, we have to work hard to ensure they stay in shape. Our goal with the reserve players is that when they're inserted into the lineup, they stay there," he continued. "For a third-line player, if he is moved up to the second line, we want to make sure he'll be able to take on those extra minutes easily. We're working so that if the demands on a player increase, he'll be able to meet them."

In addition, when a player is recovering from an injury, Allard's team will be better-equipped to prepare him for a return to action, measuring his recovery with his training load benchmark. When it comes to return to play, there will be a close collaboration with the club's medical staff.

"There is a tremendous overlap between the strength and conditioning/performance side of things and the medical/therapy/rehab side of things; they're two circles, and they intersect in the middle," indicated head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend, who will see three new additions to his team - head physiotherapist Donald Balmforth, who has spent 11 years as a physical therapy consultant for the Canadiens after four seasons with the CFL's Alouettes; assistant athletic therapist Matthew Romano, who played in the QMJHL and did his internship with the team a few years ago while completing his bachelor's degree; and Sebastian Bruna, who will be the assistant athletic therapist for the Laval Rocket. "It's not so much transitioning, but rather working together in that middle part to get the guy to be able to advance to the performance side of things. We have to work closely together."

"Knowing the training load and making the right kind of progress, we can bring players back in very good physical condition and maybe even bring them back more quickly," added Allard.

Another important factor to consider is that the department will have to do its work without impacting the players' day-to-day schedules, instead doing their best to work behind-the-scenes.

"This may seem like a lot to some people, but the players won't even notice. We don't want to disrupt their routine. The goal isn't for them to become guinea pigs," noted the new department head. "On the contrary; these are projects we've been working on and which have already been done in other sports, namely, with rugby players in Australia."

While the program may have borrowed a few things from down under, Allard is most proud of the local flavor that makes up his department.

"In addition to the partnership with l'Université de Montréal , we have Patrick Delisle-Houde from McGill, Guillaume Groulx from UQAM and on the medical side, it's very 'Concordia,' so the four major Montreal universities are well-represented on the Canadiens. We didn't go looking in the United States, we have local products, who have developed nicely, like Patrick and Guillaume, who have worked with the QMJHL and AHL," he concluded. "We didn't need to look outside into other provinces or countries. The brain power is here and we're going to use it. I'm really proud of the local influence."

Below are the new titles and new members of the organization for the 2017-18 season.

Pierre Allard 
Director, Sports Science and Performance
Patrick Delisle-Houde
Strength & Conditioning Coordinator

Guillaume Groulx
Consultant, Strength & Conditioning - Laval Rocket
Sebastien Bordeleau
Consultant, skills
Dr. David Scott
Consultant, Sports Psychology 
Martin Frechette
Consultant, Nutrition 
Partnership with Université de Montréal
Sports Sciences, headed by Jonathan Tremblay - PhD, Dpt. Kinesiology U de M.
MEDICAL PERSONNEL, under the direction of Graham Rynbend
Donald Balmforth
Head Physiotherapist 
Matthew Romano
Assistant Athletic therapist 
Sebastian Bruna
Assistant Athletic therapist - Laval Rocket

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