From the labs to the Habs

Pierre Allard at the gym.

Pierre Allard at the gym.

Credit: Club de hockey Canadien inc.

In 5 seconds

The Montreal Canadiens is partnering with UdeM scientists to help get its players in optimal physical shape.

Montreal Canadiens stars Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher know that if they want to avoid injury or recover faster from one, it's smart to listen to the advice of Pierre Allard.

As director of the Habs' new department of sports science and performance, it's his role to see that each player is always in top physical shape. Although he works mainly with the Canadiens' farm team the Laval Rocket, Allard often tends to players at the National Hockey League level.

"It's as important for players who are on the ice for 20 minutes a game as it is for young recruits just starting out in the NHL," said Allard, a triathlete and former hockey player who's now doing his master's in kinesiology at UdeM.

"My job is to make sure they're always ready to give the best of themselves."

For two years now, Allard has been working with his UdeM colleagues – notably, kinesiology professors Jonathan Tremblay and Mickael Begon – to set up a system whereby science, the latest research and technology can combine to help players reach their highest possible level of performance.

Science is developing fast

With that now accomplished, the next step is to coordinate the activities of a team of experts bringing science directly into the dressing room.

As a physical trainer with the Habs from 2011 to 2017 (a job now handled by Patrick Delisle-Houde and Guillaume Groulx), Allard grew convinced that the worlds of professional sports and academia needed to come together.

"The science of physical training is developing very fast, and the teams should take that into account with their players," he said. "We want to help each player find his optimal level of daily training, whether out on the ice or in the gym."

All four Montreal universities are represented in his new venture with the Habs, he added. "The brains are here and we're going to use them. I'm really proud of our team."

A postdoc with the Canadiens

In 2014, Université de Montréal struck a deal with the Canadiens to allow master's students to do research on the physical fitness of professional players. The partnership became reality this year with the creation of study programmes at the master's and PhD levels.

One kinesiologist, Simon Deguire, has already begun his master's in that area, and professor Mickael Begon, who specializes in shoulder joints, will supervise the work of another student. A number of PhD projects are also being developed.

The goal is not to use hockey players simply as guinea pigs for research, Allard said. His team will look at all aspects of the players' physical training, from the amount and intensity of ongoing training, to nutrition and even sports psychology.

Allard knows his hockey. He was a defenceman in  Quebec's Major Junior Hockey League from 1989 to 1993, playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes and the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. After that, he moved to France, where he played for HC Font-Romeu in the the Nationale 2 division, then the Nationale 1, then  on the England. And for the past few years he has been a competitor in several Ironman triathlon events.

Now, thanks to his studies at UdeM, Allard has a major gig with the Montreal Canadiens – proof that training and science can go hand-in-hand, right to the top.

(Story by Mathieu-Robert Sauvé)

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