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Under the microscope

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – When players arrive at training camp on September 17th, they’ll be put to the test in more ways than one – and with good reason.

Sven Andrighetto has been hitting the weights hard at the Bell Sports Complex.

Scheduled to undergo a battery of fitness and medical tests at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, veterans and young guns alike will quickly learn where they stand physically just three weeks prior to the start of the regular season. It’s also an opportunity for strength and conditioning coach, Pierre Allard, and his staff to gather a treasure of information on players that will ultimately prove invaluable all year long.

“Right off the bat, when it comes to testing, I tell all of the guys that they’re not guinea pigs or lab rats. We’re not putting them through tests just for the sake of doing it. We’re doing it to get a big picture of the players’ fitness levels, not only in terms of cardio, but in terms of explosiveness, upper-body power, lower-body power, and other areas, too,” offered Allard, who is entering his sixth season with the CH. “We’re basically creating a player dashboard on the spot. If everything comes up green [in testing], we know we can push a player even further, but if there are yellow and red lights popping up in certain sectors on different tests, then I can figure out how we can intervene and correct things in training camp. That’s why we’re covering such a large amount of ground when they get to Montreal.”

With that in mind, players are asked to perform a variety of tasks like the standing long jump test, sprinting on the HiTrainer, and engaging in various powerlifting exercises in the gym using GymAware metrics technology, before hitting the ice and performing more sprints and a host of short lateral movements under the watchful eye of team personnel. All of the data collected from any one of those tests can come into play at some point down the road.

“If, for whatever reason, a player is injured or he’s a healthy scratch for a while, you can go back to the results you collected at training camp and monitor their progress [towards being fully recovered]. I can show a player – ‘This is where you were when you showed up in mid-September. We want to get you back there or keep you there.’ That’s especially true when it comes time to doing the re-conditioning necessary to come back and play. Using the test we did at camp, I can tell [head coach] Michel Therrien that a player is at say 85 percent of his overall strength level in any particular area,” mentioned Allard, who believes simple tests can often yield the most telling – and useful – results for squads across the league. “That information comes from tests that are easy to do initially and then re-test when we have to under any circumstances. On-ice tests are even more relevant to what they’re doing every day, so they’re very helpful to us when it comes to injury recovery and working with guys who’ve missed significant playing time.”

Barring a player suffereing – or recovering – from an injury over the summer, Allard does have high expectations of his charges when they show up on the South Shore to begin the 2015-16 campaign. Those expectations differ, however, based on a players’ experience level in the NHL ranks, of course.

Stefan Fournier working out under the watchful eye of Pierre Allard in Brossard.

“If I’m dealing with a guy who’s been to development camp two or three times and is a younger player in the organization, we’re expecting to see his [performance] curve going up, a real progression. That’s what we’re looking for. But, they’ll likely be at their top level fitness-wise because of the situation they’re in trying to earn a spot at the main camp. They want to go through to the next week [if they started off at rookie camp]. I also try to warn them that there’s still a lot more to come if they make it through. When the pros arrive, it’s a totally different pace entirely,” shared Allard, who has been working with groups of players all summer long at the Canadiens’ practice facility both on and off the ice.

“With veterans, their fitness might be very good when they get here, but there’s always room for improvement because we want them to peak at the beginning of the season. They’ll usually be close to game shape, but use the time they have in camp with exhibition games to peak for the start of the year. The speed of the NHL game is what will get them there. You just can’t replicate that in the summer, no matter where you play and who you play against. If veterans are peaking for training camp, though, you know they won’t maintain it over the long-run. That isn’t our objective,” added the University of Montreal grad, who represented France in hockey at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Meeting those expectations all depends upon the way in which a player has gone about his business during the summer, and whether or not he’s adhered to the principles the Canadiens’ fitness guru prescribed in his individual training programs back in mid-May.

“When it comes to strength and conditioning, I describe hockey players as on-ice sprinters. What makes the difference between an average player and a good player is the capacity to repeat sprints. If you’re capable of repeating sprints shift after shift, game after game, you have a quality athlete,” concluded Allard, who remained in constant contact with Canadiens players across the globe all summer long. “That being said, our goal in training is to make sure that a player’s body remains intact all year long, even with high-velocity body contact. We take all of that into consideration [when we're designing our programs], along with things like travel and fatigue. That’s how we go about preparing our players in Montreal. We’re guiding them to train for the entire year ahead.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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