MONTREAL – The pre-season games are over and now the Montreal Canadiens will get down to the business of getting to know each other.
The Canadiens will spend Monday through Wednesday at Teen Ranch, a Christian country retreat in Caledon, Ont., north of Toronto. They will escape the city, work on their game and do some team bonding.
New coach Jacques Martin is also in the process of changing the system the team plays to more of a puck-control game. Although he has done the same with previous clubs he’s coached, it may be particularly useful for this team, which jettisoned 11 players from last year’s squad and has seven new ones on the roster.
“Team-building is something I’ve done with every team I’ve coached,” said Martin. “It lets players get to know each other and set down goals for the year.”
There’s a rink at the ranch where the team will practise in the morning and do off-ice training. The afternoons and evenings are for team activities, some of them for fun and others for instruction in a classroom.
“The classroom is to determine objectives for the season and have player participation, to develop accountability and leadership,” Martin added. “It will be an interesting couple of days.”
He hopes to have the team mentally and physically ready for the season opener Thursday in Toronto (7 p.m. ET, CBC). After that, a five-game road trip to start the season takes them to Buffalo, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton.
Montreal fans will not get to see the new players in a real game at the Bell Centre until their home opener Oct. 15 against the Colorado Avalanche. That begins a six-game homestand.
Martin told reporters last week he will also use the trip to see if he will name a captain. Saku Koivu, who wore the C for 10 years, left as a free agent for Anaheim and the team has gone without a captain through training camp.
Forward Brian Gionta, one of the newcomers who had four goals in four pre-season games, said the bonding session will be good for the group.
“It’s good to get some time to recover and get ready for the regular season,” he said. “We’re going on the road for five games to start it off, so it will be good for the team to get to know each other and get more comfortable together on the road.”
New defenceman Paul Mara was also looking forward to it.
“It’s a time for the guys to drop the guard,” he said. “We’ll practise in the mornings, but in the afternoons, we’ll get to know each other a little better.
“There are a lot of new faces in here. We’ll be doing some things the players here probably haven’t done in their whole lives. I doubt anyone’s been to Teen Ranch on this team, but it will be a good experience. Off-ice, it’s more fun activities, team-building stuff. It’s a good break for the body and the mind.”
Goaltender Carey Price says he knows what to expect because his family owns a similar ranch in Alberta called the Circle Square.
“It’s the same – they bring people out and it’s like a retreat, so I kind of know what’s coming,” he said.
Price was in goal as the Canadiens finished their pre-season schedule with a 3-2 victory over the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. He let in two goals in the first period, but then made some excellent stops as the Canadiens battled back for the win. Checking winger Greg Stewart got the game-winner early in the third period.
Price was pleased with how he bounced back after the early setbacks.
“If it’s 2-0, it’s not going to get better if you pout,” he said. “It can snowball if you let it.
“It’s going to be part of my game this year not to let that happen.”
While several players have had minor injuries in camp, Martin said he expects all to be ready for the season opener, except perhaps centre Kyle Chipchura, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.