BROSSARD - When Paul Byron arrived at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday morning for the first day of training camp, some childhood memories came to mind.
"It's very reminiscent of the first day of school. The more times you go, the more comfortable you feel and you know what to expect. But, there's still a bit of nerves," said Byron, who was among the players undergoing medical and fitness testing on the South Shore. "There's a lot of anxiousness and excitement here to start the year. You want to make sure that you're there on time and you make a good first impression."
That comes with producing good results in the gym, of course. Testing measured everything from grip, leg and upper-body strength to maximum oxygen intake levels using a VO2 Max test on a bike.
"I don't mind it. You have all summer to train, all summer to get better in those specific areas. At the end of the day, no matter what your scores are, it isn't really an indication of what you can do on the ice," explained Byron, who spent the bulk of his summer training at the Canadiens' practice facility. "But, you do want to make sure that you show progression and show that you're in good shape."
While fitness testing isn't the most enjoyable experience for players, it does serve an important purpose. Data collected is used to build a personalized profile that the Canadiens' strength and conditioning staff can consult on an almost-weekly basis throughout the season.
Admittedly, though, players like Brendan Gallagher can't wait to complete the process, suit up for real and hit the ice.
"There's a little bit of anxiety over fitness testing, and there's a lot of stuff to do before that [including photo and video shoots]. It's a bit of a slow morning," said Gallagher, who spends his summers training with his father, Ian, back on home turf in British Columbia. "I think everyone wants to get to Friday when you start skating, practicing and getting ready for that first game."
Like Gallagher, Shea Weber also returns to BC during the offseason to rest and recharge his batteries ahead of a new season.
This actually marks the veteran defenseman's first training camp experience with the Canadiens. At this time last year, Weber was heading into the World Cup of Hockey as a member of Team Canada.
"I wasn't here for training camp last year, but I do feel more comfortable just having played a year with the guys and being familiar with faces - not only with players, but with the staff as well. It's a little different this year, for sure," mentioned Weber, who is getting set to embark on his 13th NHL season. "Everyone knows it was a long summer for us. We've all been working hard with the hope of achieving our goal this year, which is the Stanley Cup. But, it takes steps and training camp is the first one."
While the likes of Byron, Gallagher and Weber know full well that they'll be in uniform come October 5th when the Canadiens open the regular season in Buffalo, 26-year-old defenseman Eric Gelinas doesn't. He's the lone invitee participating in main camp after being given a professional tryout just over two weeks ago.
"This year, I've been especially looking forward to camp because I think I'm more excited to start than other seasons before. This summer was a bit of a wake-up call for me," said Gelinas, who split time between the Colorado Avalanche and the AHL's San Antonio Rampage last season. "I'm really excited to get an opportunity to show what I can do again and prove myself in Montreal. That makes it a lot more special."
As much as training camp really is serious business for the Franco-Ontarian, he plans on enjoying it as well.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to make a statement every day and make myself noticeable in every way possible. But, at the end of the day, I'm here to have fun, too," confided Gelinas, on his overall approach to the days and weeks ahead. "I got away from that the last couple of years and having fun is key. When you're having fun, you're not stressed and you're free mentally and physically. I want to have fun and enjoy this moment and make the most of it."
Fellow blueliner Joe Morrow - who signed a one-year, one-way contract on July 1st - will also be looking to impress the Canadiens' brass as training camp rolls on.
The 24-year-old Edmonton native arrived in Montreal a few days early to get acclimated to his new surroundings before getting down to work.
"Coming into training camp, you kind of get a fresh sheet. Nobody really knows how you can perform, so it's a great opportunity. You take everything you learned in the past, put it to work and put your best foot forward. It's pretty much all-time high excitement for the first ice session," explained Morrow, who appeared in 17 games for the Boston Bruins last season. "But, there's a lot of adversity that goes on because of how tough and strenuous it is. It's definitely a grind, but you get to know people along the way and make some really good friends."
For young gun Jeremiah Addison, meanwhile, training camp this time around means valuable preparation for his freshman year in the pros.
"The energy in the building, you can feel it. It's the start of a season and the start of something special, no matter where you play," said Addison, who is eyeing a roster spot with the AHL's Laval Rocket this season. "It's my second time at main camp, so I'm taking things one day at a time and working hard. From here, hopefully good things can happen. It's just about doing the right things more than anything."