Pledge of allegiance

Tuesday, 18.02.2014 / 3:00 PM canadiens.com

MONTREAL – No two roads to Olympic stardom are alike. Pierre Allard can certainly attest to that.

Sixteen years removed from donning France’s colors at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the Canadiens’ strength and conditioning coach still fondly recalls how his dream of competing on the world’s most prolific hockey stage ultimately became a reality, albeit in a rather unconventional way.

“I met my wife in Montreal and she’s French. When I met her, she helped me realize that you always have to go for your dreams. My dream was to play in the NHL. When I realized that it wouldn’t happen, we decided to go with plan B,” offered the Montreal native, who is in the midst of his fourth season with the Canadiens after hanging up his skates in 2003. “My wife and I went to France, and it took me 14 or 15 months to get my French citizenship. The fact that we were married and we had children made the process go a lot quicker and coming from Quebec helped, too.”

With a French passport in hand, the Université de Montréal grad, who played professionally in both England and France for 10 seasons over the course of his hockey career, seized the opportunity to join his adoptive country’s national team when they came calling for his services as a hard-nosed forward.

“When I grew up, I always thought the Olympics were a big thing and I wanted to be a part of that,” confided the veteran of five World Hockey Championships, who spent seven years as a member of Les Bleus. “When I arrived in France, I realized that I had the chance to be a part of the national team. When they called me up, my first game actually was against Team Canada in Bordeaux in 1996, I think. It was kind of weird lining up at the blue line seeing all of the Canadian guys across the ice. That was pretty strange for a first game.”

Facing his powerhouse birth nation on international ice may have been unique, but it didn’t stop the now 41-year-old from realizing his Olympic dream two years later when he helped France to an 11th-place finish in Nagano with NHLers permitted to take part in the Games for the first time.

While the final outcome of the two-week tournament didn’t necessarily yield the result Allard and his teammates were looking for, the fitness guru still chalks it up as the experience of a lifetime.

“To be there and see all of the pros and play against the big names was great. Just being around the Olympic Village was good, too. When we were done, we had five extra days so I went around and I watched some speed skating and other events. I saw Team Canada play Team USA in hockey, and I took in a few of the women’s games, too,” recalled Allard, whose team was in a pool with Germany, Japan and Belarus at the ’98 Games.

“I think most athletes would say that at their first Olympics, they’re all over the place. Your eyes are everywhere, and you seem to lose a lot of concentration on what you’ve been working on because there are so many distractions around you,” he continued. “I think if I had the chance to go back, I would have been more focused on the task at hand. You want to live the experience, but in a different way. You want to be there to perform but you know that it’s probably going to be a one-shot deal so you make the most of it. It’s so tough to get back there again.”

With a mindset like that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the man charged with ensuring Michel Therrien’s troops are in fighting shape has also played an integral part in helping seven Habs fulfill their Olympic aspirations this February.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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