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The final test

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Before they arrive well rested and relaxed at First Niagara Center on June 24, many NHL draft hopefuls will first have to suffer a little bit at the NHL Combine.

Pierre Allard is set to begin his seventh season as the Canadiens Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Over the course of the week at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo, more than a hundred youngsters dreaming of reaching hockey’s highest ranks will have to push themselves past their limits at the 2016 NHL Combine. Just like the other 29 teams in the league, the Canadiens will have their own crop of invitees that will attempt to exert themselves physically like never before, to prove they have the requisite physical attributes necessary to join the organization.

The ever watching eye of Habs Strength and Conditioning coach Pierre Allard will be paying close attention to that group of future Canadiens hopefuls. Knowing just how demanding the NHL Combine can be, the longtime coach is well aware that a player’s first NHL contract is not so easily signed.

"In addition to the tests, players must also cope with stress factor. I try to put myself in their shoes, which is tough. They’ve just showed up at the Combine fresh off dealing with the stress of the individual interviews – which can vary from 15-25 meetings in just one week – and then they are expected to perform a battery of physical tests with all eyes in the room fixed upon them,” outlined Allard, who is set to enter his seventh season with the Canadiens organization in 2016-17. “The tests have been adapted and improved in recent years. Two years ago, all the physical trainers from across the league met up and gave their opinions based on what we’ve seen the past several years and what we would do to improve the formula so that we can obtain more information moving forward.”

Situated in the state of New York - for the second consecutive season after being relocated from Toronto after many years - the Combine offers prospects a chance to test their physical conditioning against a multitude of tests spaced out over the week. The annual event gives NHL teams a greater insight into the amount and percentage of a player’s body fat, the power exerted by a player’s upper and lower body and a player’s endurance as measured via reaction time and stamina testing. Many prospects will leave the Combine with an extensive list of new data that will be heavily scrutinized in the weeks leading up to June’s Entry Draft in Buffalo.

"The data we obtain on a specific player from the Combine gives us another tool to help confirm our club’s scouting report. We keep an eye out for discrepancies; For example, if a player is very, very explosive but has no stamina, that raises a red flag” continued Allard who holds a BA in Kinesiology in addition to surpassing three levels of the National Coaching Certification Program. “When we meet and discuss with our scouting group, I like to ask the team what type of player each prospect is, because unlike me, they have had the luxury of seeing the guys play live. It’s hard for me to judge the quality of a prospects game, but I can definitely asses the player’s physical conditioning. That enables me to paint a portrait that the team can use in their decision making.”

Despite all the adaptions made to the Combine in recent years, Allard believes that consequential changes would help to obtain more concrete data on youth.

Citing the example of the NFL Combine– an event that is not just watched by NFL fans worldwide, but also measures up to the hype surrounding the league’s annual Entry Draft – as a parallel, Allard notes that a more comprehensive Combine can draw a fairly complete picture.

“The National Football League turned to a sports scientist to help improve their testing. However, even with all the tests that we perform on our side, it is still difficult to predict the NHL potential of these raw talents purely from physical tests performed in a confined room. In the NFL, certain positions require athletes to run a certain distance in a short amount of time, if you cannot reach that benchmark, you aren’t cut out for the league. It is the same with the bench press; if you are not able to complete enough reps, it indicates that you do not possess the power required to push your opponent passed the line of scrimmage. In football, it is easier to analyze raw talents based on whether or not they meet the physical requirements of the position. In contrast, in the NHL, it can be very difficult to determine if a kid will become a smart defenseman just because he got a good result on the bench press.

For the second straight year the NHL Combine will be showcased at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo.

However, prior to arriving at HARBORCENTER, the draft hopefuls have already figured out that they can prepare specifically for the tests that await them at the Combine by following various training protocols they find online. While some players were able to resume their Combine preparation by the end of their respective seasons in the last few weeks, others have just gotten their first break from the ice following the conclusion of the MasterCard Memorial Cup last Sunday.

If minor details like this are magnified and taken into consideration during the physical testing at the Combine, then the majority of the youngsters arriving at the event for the first time will get a glimpse of what it takes to get your body in game shape in hockey’s most elite league.

Each year, some athletes receive a wake-up call when they realize that their physical conditioning is not up to par. They are not the first batch of youngsters to receive this shock and they most certainly won’t be the last to realize how much it takes to survive the daily rigors of being a professional hockey player and the expectations of performing at an elite level every night.

"A guy like [Michael] McCarron for example, has progressed tremendously over the last two years compared to where his aptitude for physical training was when he first arrived. He quickly learnt what it meant to train like a pro,” testified Allard about the Canadiens first-round selection at the 2013 Entry Draft. McCarron’s career took off after the youngster made significant changes to his training regimen before starting out with the U.S National Development program. “That’s probably the biggest surprise for future NHLers. They enjoy a first-class ride throughout their careers right up until the moment they are drafted, but once you reach the pros, everyone starts from scratch.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff.

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