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Stu Cowan: Survival of the fittest as Canadiens take to the ice

Shortly after the first group completed their grueling workout, the team announced that there were already injuries to be reported.

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On Thursday, Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis wasted no time in finding out what form his players were in.

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They were divided into five groups of about a dozen players each when they first took to the ice at training camp in Brossard.

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First, the players rode the ice several times individually, attaching a cord to the back of their pants, to measure the result of their steps. After that, they drove lap after lap across the entire surface of the ice in small groups at maximum speed with very short breaks between them.

It was like a survival test and I wondered if any of the players would vomit when they leaned over with their clubs on their knees to catch their breath after they finished the laps.

Shortly after the first group finished on the ice, the Canadiens announced that there were already injuries to report after medical and physical testing on Wednesday.

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Captain Nick Suzuki was sidelined for two weeks with a lower body injury and mate Joel Edmundson was sidelined indefinitely with a lower body injury. Josh Anderson and Jake Evans are listed daily with upper body injuries. It was already known that Carey Price (knee), Paul Byron (thigh) and Sean Monahan (thigh) were still recovering from injuries and that Price would not play at all this season.

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Not the best way to start training camp for a team that finished last season in last place in the NHL overall and set a record with 731 losses due to injuries.

“It’s tough,” said Brendan Gallagher, who missed 26 games last season due to injury. “But it’s kind of a good lesson for us to learn early on. The boys are about to go down. It’s a long season, it’s flour. You are not going to have everyone all year long. So it’s good when other people become active.”

No player will have to move forward more than Gallagher as a leader after he was named mate along with Edmundson and Suzuki was named captain for the Sept. 12 team golf tournament. Gallagher is the only one of the three who will be on the ice for at least the first two weeks of camp, and the season opener is scheduled for Oct. 12 when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Bell Center.

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“I’ve been here long enough to know you need multiple leaders,” Gallagher said. “I have played with some very good captains and they have had very good leadership support and it seeps through your dressing room. These guys will still be around, they will still be part of what the group is doing, and thus they can become leaders. But when you are on the ice, especially when you are divided into different groups, you will need guys to take charge of the team and follow up – maybe on the 3rd day of camp, energy is low – and you will need guys to raise the group and make sure every day is productive.

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“You know it’s not long before the start of the season,” Gallagher added. “It feels like a long way, but it happens fast and before you know it, you’re throwing the puck for game 1 and you want to make sure we’re ready. At certain points, the guys will certainly have to step up, take responsibility for the group and make every day productive.”

Rookie Mike Matheson, acquired in the summer from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Jeff Petrie, noted that good teams are made in tough times, and Thursday was definitely a tough day on the ice.

“You see guys supporting each other by tapping on them as they pass or doing reps, saying, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go to! You’re almost there!” Matheson said. “It just brings people together and brings them closer.

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“You have to train all summer to be ready for these things,” he added. “It’s a good tool that coaches can use to gauge where everyone is at.”

A team meeting was held on Wednesday night where St. Louis addressed the players.

“Walking out of that meeting, I was kind of saying to the other guys, ‘God, he turns you on,'” Matheson said. “He just has a way of speaking. He was a player himself, a very successful player. And so when you say he understands that, he obviously understands and he knows what motivates people. We’re trying to create a culture here that can exist and have great success, and he’s obviously the main driver of that.”

The Survivor test was a good start.

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