From a hockey player’s perspective, hockey games take place at an awkward time. When the faceoff occurs at 7:30 p.m., say, it throws his whole eating routine out of whack. Ergo, hockey players have their pre-game meals much earlier in the day, then relax and sleep, and have another meal after the game.
As science has evolved and we learn more about the benefits of certain foods, this vital pre-game meal has changed significantly. For decades it was considered sacred to have a steak with vegetables as the big meal at about noon, before a nap and the game.
In the last twenty years or so, players have shifted to a high-carb diet for extra energy. As a result, most favour a plate of pasta. The Rangers’ Sean Avery acknowledged as much when asked about his game-day routine. “We all eat the same thing before games,” he said. “For me, it’s spaghetti and chicken. Every game. My whole life. Since I was nine years old.”
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Indeed, the meal is essential for playing well, so in this case superstition and common sense merge. The meal is part of that pre-game routine, but if a player is used to one thing, and if that meal has helped get him to the NHL, he isn’t likely to change. Also, a player’s stomach must be understood and coddled. It’s not possible to play one’s best with indigestion or other gastrointestinal difficulty. Pasta, chicken, and vegetables are all easy to eat and digest, and they are filling enough and provide enough nutrients to be a perfect repast.
Few players have had their diet dissected so much as Doug Gilmour of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1993 and 1994 playoffs. Blessed with the heart of a lion, Gilmour was never the biggest or strongest player in the league, yet his Herculean efforts in those two playoffs almost propelled Toronto to its first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1967.
The gruelling playoff schedule, the extra minutes played, and the pressure and intensity all wore away at “Dougie.” Yet one game after another he endured and starred for the team, crediting pasta for his strength. In his case, the key was not one large game-day lunch. Rather, it was seven or eight small meals of spaghetti throughout the day to keep his stomach less than completely full but his energy level always high.