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Welcome to Collingwood

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
COLLINGWOOD – Only three days remain until the Canadiens open up the 2011-12 season in Toronto and Jacques Martin is making the most of the team’s annual retreat with a few last minute adjustments.

This year, the 27 remaining Habs at camp have headed two hours north of Toronto to the mountain town of Collingwood to mix a variety of team building exercises with their last preseason sessions of on ice training.
Photo Gallery: Day 1 in Collingwood

“The exercises that we’re doing here at this retreat hold a great deal of importance for the rest of the season," explained Martin after his team's first skate at Collingwood’s Eddie Bush Arena. "There’s a reason so many different organizations do this with their personnel. It’s a chance for our players to establish certain values and objectives for the upcoming year.

“This is the final phase of our training camp,” continued the Canadiens head coach, who made it a point to keep the actual activities his players would be partaking in under wraps. “We’re taking advantage of this time to enjoy some team building activities, but also to polish up a few parts of our game in preparation for Thursday.”

Not only does the retreat represent an opportunity for the players to get in some rest and relaxation, but it will also help strengthen bonds among teammates that are crucial during an 82-game season.

“There are some new faces here that are just joining out group,” pointed out Mathieu Darche. “For guys like me who have families, it’s the time of the year when the kids head back to school. Between family time and long days at the rink, we don’t really get the time to go out and do too many things together as a group.”

Some of the exercises, Darche explained, are not only designed to solidify relationships, but also to discover the strengths of each individual.

“You really get to find out and confirm who the true leaders on the team are; which guys are going to take the reins when it counts,” continued Darche. “We already know that Gionta is our captain on the ice, but yesterday they gave us a puzzle solving exercise to complete, and he quickly stepped up and took the lead even there.”

Echoing his teammate's sentiment, defenseman Hal Gill sounded off on the retreat’s ability to help the team focus as a unit before embarking on a marathon season.

“It’s great because it lets us all get away from everyday life for a while and direct all our attention to preparation and the group,” explained the 14-year NHL veteran. “Sometimes a change of scenery can be really helpful and it lets the guys bond before the year starts.”

The Habs will be able to put their bond to the test when their first game of 2011-12 kicks off Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Air Canada Centre.

Justin Fragapane is a writer for

Photos: Day 1 in Collingwood
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