Big League Eats

Even NHL Players Take A Break From The Rigors Of The Training Table
Jess Myers

Aaron Broten, who retired in 1992 after a dozen seasons in the NHL, once chuckled when asked if he plays much recreational hockey after getting paid to play for so many years. He answered with an old adage about enjoying the ability to try something new.

“Mailmen don’t often go for a walk on their day off,” Broten said.

In that same vein, you don’t see a lot of modern-day NHL players eating chicken and pasta in the off-season. While that combo of “carbs and protein” is a pregame staple at nearly every level of hockey, it can grow stale after 82 games plus playoffs.

Keeping their bodies in optimal shape is a must for pro athletes who make careful dietary choices, ensuring they have the fuel needed to facilitate peak performance on the ice. Thus, the seemingly endless amounts of poultry and penne consumed before games. But there’s some variety creeping into the pregame routines around NHL training tables these days as well.

“I tried to take away some of the pasta and eat more rice this season,” said San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock, admitting that he gets “so sick of pasta” every night during the season.

Similarly, veteran Buffalo Sabres forward Drew Stafford is mixing more rice into the pregame routine, hoping to eat a little lighter and be conscious of gluten amounts in his diet. And he’s far from the only one trying to switch up the pregame meal traditions.

“Before a game I always go with whole wheat pasta, chicken and a little bit of salmon and broccoli, asparagus or kale,” said Nate Schmidt, who just finished his rookie season on defense for the Washington Capitals. “It’s a sampler platter. I like to try a bit of everything.”

And with NHL players crisscrossing the continent, there are culinary wonders in every region, and great eats to be had on nearly every road trip. Stafford said he and his Sabres teammates rarely miss a chance to have steaks at Del Frisco’s in Philadelphia, while Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise admits longing for some of the great ethnic food available in New Jersey, where his NHL career began.

“There’s one Italian restaurant in Jersey that I always went to,” Parise said, mentioning Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, N.J. “I took the guys there this year when we were on the road and I was pumping it up, telling them it would be the best food they’d ever had, which you shouldn’t do, but it delivered. It actually was the best food they’d ever had. Great spot.”

“Anaheim, San Jose,
L.A. and Phoenix,
because they have
In-N-Out Burger.”

—Minnesota Wild Forward
Jason Zucker describing his
away game destinations.

For other NHLers, the desired road food is less about silverware and a white tablecloth and more about having lots of paper napkins on hand. Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker grew up in Las Vegas and longs for West Coast road trips for more than just the weather. He can quickly rattle off his four favorite away game destinations and they all have one thing in common.

“Anaheim, San Jose, L.A. and Phoenix, because they have In-N-Out Burger,” Zucker said. “I always hit In-N-Out whenever I can.”

As opposed to the season, when most players carefully monitor and control everything they consume, the off-season is a time for delving into everything they’ve been missing for months, and have been denying in favor of all that chicken and pasta.

Stalock is another In-N-Out Burger fan. Zucker, back home in Las Vegas, admits he’ll get four burgers at a time on some trips to the chain. For others, it’s pizza, ice cream or an Asian buffet. Parise admits he eats “a lot more cookie dough” in the summer. Stafford craves Sour Patch Kids by the handful.

During the season, NHL teams keep a close eye on what players eat to ensure that they make careful dietary choices that will give them the fuel they need to perform at their best.During the season, NHL teams keep a close eye on what players eat to ensure that they make careful dietary choices that will give them the fuel they need to perform at their best.Most veterans have learned that controlling what you consume is a key to feeling better and having more energy throughout the year. It’s a lesson most young players are taught quickly when tackling the grind of an NHL season, which can stretch 10 months from training camp to the Stanley Cup Finals.

“In college I was eating frozen pizzas before bed, and now it’s a little different story,” said Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad, who just completed his rookie season as a pro.

“Florida food is actually unbelievable. I was down there in the summer running a camp with [Panthers winger Jonathan] Huberdeau. We went fishing and caught a bunch of mahi-mahi, fileted them and had them made for us. I’m really getting a feel for different types of fish, and that’s one of my favorite things about living there.”

Along with learning the ways of travel and opponents and strange rinks that are a part of life in the NHL, Bjugstad is one of those young players learning his way around a pro player’s plate.

“It’s pretty nice when you get to the upper levels, and you get access to a lot of great food. I love that, because I can eat quite a bit,” he said. 

“We eat pretty well on the road. And then at the rink we have a buffet table and it’s unlimited, so it’s a pretty good gig.”

Bon appetit, boys.



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