Behind the scenes at the Habs’ Prospect Camp

By Jason Menard

If youth is the future upon which success will be built, the Montreal Canadiens annual prospect camp is an opportunity for the team to ensure that the foundation is laid the right way.

“Our development camp is not an evaluation camp,” explained Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s Director of Player Personnel. “I keep trying to explain to the fans, the players, and the media that we’re here to give them the information and training techniques that they can use to grow and develop. In fact, the players didn’t even have their name or numbers on their jerseys.

“Especially for the newly drafted players, it’s so vital that we get these guys here so soon after the draft so that we can show them our way of doing things.”

Timmins ran the seven-day camp, the longest allowable by the new CBA, starting on July 8th and concluding July 15th. A total of 20 players participated, including a pair of the team’s European prospects: Slovakian forward Juraj Mikus and Finnish blueliner Oskari Korpikari. The participants were restricted to only those without professional experience, so no Bulldogs were in attendance. However, CHL prospects including Carey Price, Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse, and Sergei Kostitsyn, and U.S. high school and college players like Ryan O’Byrne and recent first-round draft choice David Fischer made the trip to Montreal. Latendresse and Chipchura arrived mid-week due to the Team Canada medal and ring presentation.

While the focus is on skill development and refining of on and off-ice techniques, there is a social benefit to the camp – and Timmins admitted he was pleasantly surprised by how this group of kids came together.

“I’ve never, in all my time doing this, seen a group like this mesh together so well,” he explained. “Team-building is an added bonus since these guys will probably be teammates in the future – maybe in Hamilton after their amateur career, or maybe even in Montreal – and these guys really came together as a strong group.”

Each day at the camp featured an on-ice component in the morning, off-ice professional development seminars in the afternoon, and evening events. “We even scheduled time for their ritual nap in the afternoon,” Timmins added, laughing.

“There was a two-fold focus on the ice,” Timmins explained. “First was power skating and this is the third season we’ve done this. The second part was skill development: puckhandling, passing and receiving, and stickhandling.”

In today’s NHL, skating is at a premium, and the Canadiens employed video technology to help the young players recognize deficiencies in their technique. “We’re trying to help players identify faults in their technique and biomechanics that we can then address and fix,” Timmins added. “It’s like a golf swing – when one thing’s out, then it leads to another thing going wrong in technique, and eventually everything’s out of whack.

“We do our best, but you can’t totally fix it. It’s like your normal gait or the way you walk – you’ve been doing it the same way for years and it’s difficult to completely change that.”

Timmins said that the team, led by former NHLer Gaston Gingras, employs video technology to tape players during drills and then show them the results individually after practice.

“A picture really is worth a thousand words and when they can see what they’re doing and how we want to correct it, it’s really much more effective,” he added.

Although all teams may not follow the same path for their prospect camps, Timmins brought the idea for this method of running the event with him from his experience with the Senators.

“We started back in Ottawa when Marshall Johnston was there and when I came to Montreal I brought the idea with me and we’ve gone from there.

“At whatever level, not enough time is spent on skill training, because so much time is spent on systems. I think it’s good to take this time to give the kids the education they need and help them take their game to the next level.”

The camp was held in the Montreal suburb of Lachine, with the players hitting the ice in the Martin Lapointe Arena. Despite the fact that the morning sessions were heavily practice-focused, the arena was still filled with interested fans and media. Timmins said the players are better off for that experience.

“You know how passionate the fans are and how much media coverage you get for the team in Montreal,” he explained. “The number of media that was here for hockey in July and the fact that this small rink was jam-packed with fans who came out to watch them power skate was an eye-opener for them.”

After the morning on-ice component, the players would engage in a series of off-ice professional development seminars to help them acclimatize to the NHL. During the week former Hab Ryan Walter spoke on performance. In addition, the players were involved in seminars covering topics ranging from strength training to drugs and alcohol.

The players were also exposed to the history of this legendary franchise, both through a seminar and courtesy of a little field trip.

“We had a private viewing in a Montreal theatre of the film The Rocket,” Timmins explained. “We’re trying to bring in a sense of history for the team and let them experience the aura of this club.

“After all, these kids weren’t even born when a lot of the Cups were won and we want them to get a feeling for the storied history of this franchise.”

And what would a week of work be without a little play? The players were also taken to a Bon Jovi/Nickleback concert at Parc Jean Drapeau where they were giving front-row seats and VIP treatment. “The guys really seemed to like that,” Timmins said.

From here, Timmins said the team expects the players to apply what they’ve learned and come back stronger. Some players will be back in September for the team’s rookie tournament.

“We did a lot of on-ice testing for anaerobic capacity and speed – as we move down the road, we’ve established a baseline for the players,” he said. “A lot of what we do here is information gathering and the key is for us to use that wisely.”

Timmins explained that the players will have to mesh the Canadiens’ way of doing things with what their home clubs’ expectations are.

“It’s always been our philosophy that this is what we do, but it’s not the only way to do it,” he said. “If you can intertwine what we do with what your teams are asking, then you can come up with the ideal regimen.”

The Canadiens’ Player Personnel Director said he preferred not to make specific commentary about the players regarding camp, although he said he was impressed with the overall quality and depth of the prospects, in addition to their size.

“We’re big. The smallest guy out there was 5’11 ½ [Kostitsyn],” he said. However, Timmins did admit that both Chipchura and Latendresse stood out, and that he was pleased with the team’s 2006 first-rounder. “Fischer held his own out there,” he explained. “The last time we saw him was against high-school competition so it’s nice to see him perform at this level.”

In side notes, Timmins said the team wants Kostitsyn to return to the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. “We want him to be back in London and have a leadership role with the team,” he said. “There’s no rush. He’s had success and we’d like to see him continue that success.”

He also added that he was pleased that Mikus will finally be coming overseas to play for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“First and foremost, players have to come over and learn the language,” Timmins said. “He’s had success in Slovakia and hopefully he’ll continue that success here as he picks up the language and gets used to the North American game.”

Finally, after Latendresse’s much-ballyhooed run for a roster spot last season, all eyes will be on the young Quebecer again this training camp. Timmins said he has no projections either way, noting that everything works out in the end.

“During training camp and preseason games players sort themselves out,” he said. “[Latendresse] can’t play in Hamilton. He’s either got to play in the NHL or the CHL, so he’ll have to take a spot away from a veteran if he wants to make the club.

“Everything went right for him last year and we can only hope that everything will continue to go right for him this year.”

The roster of players at the camp was as follows: Mathieu Aubin, Mathieu Carle, Cameron Cepek, Chipchura, Matthew D’Agostini, Fischer, Martin Frechette, Jon Gleed, Korpikari, Kostitsyn, Loic Lacasse, Latendresse, Ben Maxwell, Mikus, O’Byrne, Phillipe Paquet, Price, Greg Stewart, Ryan White, and James Wyman.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.