In 2009, Tyler Randell, 18 years old at the time, attended his first development camp with the Bruins. By his recollection, Randell's body fat was 12.6 percent. The organization instructs its players to be under 10 percent.
Six years later, the fourth-line right wing is down to 8.2 percent.
Randell's change in body composition isn't due to working out more. It's because he's eating smarter than when he was a teenager living with a billet family in Kitchener, Ontario.
Cheesy rice is one dish Randell remembers being served by his hosts. Now, he starts some game days with eggs, turkey bacon, oatmeal, and Greek yogurt.
"Nutrition is No. 1 when you're looking to be lean and at your top shape to play," said the 24-year-old. "It's definitely something you have to watch and just stick to it."
Randell is a member of the new NHL. The game rewards speed, skill, and quick thinking. It punishes the aircraft carriers that are too slow to keep pace with the speedboats.
Being big and bulky is no longer necessary for entry into the league. In fact, it may be an impediment.
So it is only natural that teams are examining what's on their employees' plates. They were once piled high with steak, chicken parmesan, and penne. Not anymore.
"There seems to be a trend away from what older guys used to do," said Julie Nicoletti, a sports nutritionist and founder of Kinetic Fuel. "It used to be steak and pasta pregame. Today's pro hockey players limit their red meat and processed starches like pasta.
"The goal is always to feel fueled and ready to compete when the anthem plays, not weighed down and heavy, or to feel empty when there's a period to go."
Encouraging proper nutrition for players is a slam dunk. But it wasn't until this past offseason that the Bruins hired Nicoletti as a consultant. They did not have anybody in this position before.
Players who reported to camp with 10 percent or higher body fat had to work with Nicoletti to dip under the threshold. She is also available for players who have questions regarding their diet. Nicoletti helps with game-day nutrition, even if the morning skate has disrupted what she considers the most important meal.
For home night games, the Bruins eat at approximately 12:30 p.m. It is their primary source of fuel.
Protein options are fish and chicken. Steak tips or beef tenderloin are also available. Salad and mixed vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and asparagus are required. Players can have a small dish of pasta with marinara or pesto. Or they can choose what Nicoletti terms "clean starches": quinoa, sweet potatoes, or roasted potatoes.
The thing about the pregame meal, however, is that it's six hours before the puck drops. Nutritionists usually discourage such a long period between food and play. But players are hungry after the morning skate. Because they're up and at the rink early, they could not push their pregame meal any later.
"I would like them to eat a little closer to performing," Nicoletti said. "Typically, the last full meal occurs about three hours before the athlete plays."
So a snack before the game becomes important for players after their pregame naps. Randell likes oatmeal and energy bars. Nicoletti cites fruit or protein shakes as other options. They are meant as topoff fuel to keep players from losing energy late in games.
Postgame, Randell will eat a recovery meal similar to his pregame spread minus the pasta: chicken or fish and vegetables. He'll treat himself to a piece of cake or a cookie on occasion. But for the most part, players avoid sweets, and not just because sugar can add unnecessary weight.
"It's the way it makes them feel," said Nicoletti. "If they're off sugar, then they have it, they will feel that. Some of them get that revved-up, agitated feeling. Others get a sugar spike, then it drops, then they feel low. That's the change they don't like.
"They seek consistency in how they feel. There are so many variables in a game. Whatever we can minimize is great."
Hockey players do a lot of heavy lifting. They burn calories rapidly in games and practices. But not enough to ignore their diets.
Little tweak could do a lot of good
During the general managers meetings Tuesday, the game's 30 stewards discussed ways to increase offense. Options under consideration include expanding the nets and shrinking goaltender equipment.
The latter is a better alternative than the former. Based on the chatter following the meetings, equipment reduction is coming.
The concern is with the pads. Take away more from the pillows, and it puts the goalies at risk for injuries, especially the hips. Dropping down into the butterfly hundreds of times a week is not healthy for the hips. Shrinking the landing pad on the inside of each knee would result in bloated medical bills, not just bigger goals-against averages.
The easiest fix, however, would be the least disruptive: banning icing on the penalty kill.
Power plays around the league are working. After 15 games, the Bruins paced the league with a 34 percent success rate. In 241 total games, the leaguewide average was 19.5, the highest output since 1992-93 (19.57 percent).
They'd be even more efficient if penalty killers weren't allowed to fling the puck down the ice. This takes no skill.
In comparison, it's hard for even good players under forechecking heat to advance the puck properly out of the defensive zone. They run into traps. They get outnumbered. They cough up the puck.
If icing were called during penalty kills, power-play efficiency would rise. In the USHL, a two-game no-icing experiment last year doubled the usual rate of scoring.
Coaches would then force their players to adapt during five-on-five play. A trickle-down effect would happen. Players would be discouraged from taking borderline penalties. As the gray-area interference and holding infractions go away, players would have more room to create even-strength scoring chances.
Just as power-play production would rise, so would even-strength scoring. There would be fewer penalties. Fewer whistles would improve game flow. Teams would roll four lines and three pairings.
All with one little tweak.
Vatrano made the right move
Frank Vatrano's body of college work was just one season long. After transferring from Boston College to UMass Amherst in 2012, the East Longmeadow native had to sit out a year per NCAA rules. Last year, in his first full season of college hockey, the sophomore scored a team-high 18 goals in 36 games.
After the season, Vatrano had a decision to make. He could sign with the Bruins, the most aggressive team in seeking his pro rights. Or he could return to UMass for his junior season, improve upon his sophomore production, and see the interest expand. Around the league, the latter was the expectation.
"A lot of teams felt he was going to stay another year in college," said Peter Fish, Vatrano's agent and former family adviser. "They were kind of surprised and caught off guard.
"I give the Bruins credit. They recognized him early on and followed him throughout the season. They said, 'We think he's going to be ready at the end of the year.' When you hear things like that as an adviser, it's important to you. You want teams that really want you."
Had Vatrano stayed at UMass another year, his game would have gotten better. While his salary would have been capped because of entry-level restrictions, the left wing would have seen his job opportunities increase.
But Vatrano and Fish studied the Bruins' organizational depth chart. At the time, the Bruins had options at right wing in Loui Eriksson, David Pastrnak, Reilly Smith, Brett Connolly, Brian Ferlin, and Seth Griffith.
The left side was not as deep. Milan Lucic was a trade possibility, which became reality in June. Daniel Paille was scheduled to be unrestricted. Brad Marchand was the only long-term sure thing on the left side.
The opportunity at left wing, the Bruins' aggressiveness, and the chance to play for his hometown team sold Vatrano. He signed March 13.
"Sometimes when you have a team that sees him filling a role and you don't take it, you wait instead, then you just never know," Fish said. "It goes both ways. I've had situations where kids waited too long and they missed it.
"There was something about Frankie and his desire and determination. He decided, 'I want to be a pro. I want to go now.' When a kid feels that way and you keep him back, his heart is elsewhere. It affects his play. It's something you have to evaluate when you're talking to a kid and his family in these situations."
Vatrano has always been skilled. He played for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, where his teammates included Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones.
But he was undrafted. He stands 5 feet 10 inches. He lost some NHL followers after he transferred from BC to UMass and lost a year. As a sophomore, Vatrano played at 215 pounds. He's since slimmed down to 201.
There were enough red flags for some teams to keep their distance. The Bruins weren't one of them. So far, Vatrano is rewarding them for their investment.
A one-man firing squad
The Capitals lost to the Red Wings on Tuesday, 1-0. It was not Alex Ovechkin's fault. The Washington captain set a career high by hammering Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek with 15 pucks in 24:43 of ice time. Ovechkin also missed with three attempts. His one-game tally was higher than the season totals for teammates Jay Beagle, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner, and Brooks Orpik. And those four had dressed in all 14 of Washington's games.
No special treatment for Strome
Ryan Strome is a third-year pro. He was the fifth pick in the 2011 draft, four slots ahead of former junior teammate Dougie Hamilton. Strome appeared in 81 games last year for the Islanders, collecting 17 goals and 33 assists. All of that, however, has not been good enough to keep Strome on the varsity. The Islanders assigned the skilled forward to Bridgeport, their AHL affiliate, after a sleepy 1-4—5 start in 12 games. Through two games with Bridgeport, Strome had zero goals and one assist. He's too good to stay in the AHL for long. But the Islanders were not afraid to send a stern message to the 22-year-old: What he was doing wasn't good enough, regardless of his pedigree.
Numbers dictate strategy
During five-on-five play, a clean offensive-zone entry is not something teams would decline. Crossing the blue line, especially with puck possession instead of a dump-in, is the objective of every attacking player. Yet it's become common practice during overtime for players that have gained the offensive zone to slam on the brakes, retreat into the neutral zone, and trigger a regroup. This way, the team with possession can change players during the regroup. They can build up speed in the neutral zone. They can attempt a drop pass to an onrushing player — maybe even one off the bench — to attack a flat-footed defense. All this is possible because of the amount of space available with only six skaters on the ice. Expand the number to 10, however, and coaches will eliminate leaving the offensive zone as an option. "I'd say 90 percent of coaches would prefer getting pucks in deep versus going back and turning it over in the neutral zone," Claude Julien said. "Either it ends up in your net or in your own end. Three-on-three, there's not two or three guys coming at you. So the chances of you turning the puck over are a lot less than five-on-five."
Wings may have overextended
That Justin Abdelkader scored an annual payday of $4.25 million is no surprise. The 6-foot-2-inch, 218-pound Abdelkader is a power forward with some touch around the net. The Detroit left wing's next paycheck is an example of supply and demand. But the Red Wings may regret the mechanism they used to keep Abdelkader's average annual value relatively low. On Thursday, Abdelkader signed a seven-year extension, meaning he'll be 36 in the final season of his new deal. It is not a kind age for power forwards with one season of 20 or more goals. Abdelkader can point to 2014-15 as the year that made him rich. Last season, he scored a career-high 23 goals and had 21 assists. He buried 14.9 percent of his shots, also a career best. It's possible he will earn his money for the next four seasons. But the second half of his contract may not seem so friendly if his production fades, as it tends to do for players with his job description. If a 28-year-old Abdelkader can score this kind of extension, Loui Eriksson can ask for the same kind of term and an even fatter salary.
This Eagle looks like a keeper
Thatcher Demko's scorching stretch is proving why Vancouver made the Boston College standout the second goalie picked in 2014. Demko had six shutouts over nine starts. The junior was 8-1-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average and .974 save percentage. One reason for Demko's ridiculous play is his health. Like a lot of young goalies, Demko's hips have already taken a beating. Following surgery, Demko is pain-free and moving smoothly. At this pace, Demko will have no reason to return for his senior season. Former BC goalie Cory Schneider, also once Vancouver property, turned pro after his junior year. But Schneider didn't become a full-time ace until last year, when he was 28. He needed three years of AHL prep time. Then he was traded to New Jersey. Then he split time with Martin Brodeur. Demko is hoping it won't take him as long to grab a starting job. Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom will be unrestricted after 2017. By then, Demko might be ready to push for NHL employment.
The Bruins have yet to hold significant talks with Kevan Miller regarding an extension. Miller will be unrestricted after this season. Colin Miller and Zach Trotman, also right-shot defensemen, will be restricted. Their expected raises will make it harder for Kevan Miller to be reupped . . . Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum, is advocating for a special celebration next season. It isn't just the NHL's 100th anniversary. Johnson notes that it also marks the 50th anniversary of Bobby Orr's first NHL game. Hopefully the NHL takes Johnson up on his idea . . . The Bruins signed 2015 picks Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, and Jeremy Lauzon to entry-level deals Thursday. They will not count toward the 50-contract ceiling until they turn pro and play in 10 games. The Bruins currently have 46 players under pro contracts . . . Henrik Lundqvist sparked a scrum Tuesday. The Rangers goalie pitched his stick into the Madison Square Garden crowd after shutting out Carolina, 3-0. Several fans engaged in a rough game of tug-of-war to claim the King's lumber. It was playtime compared with the daily scramble for the Boston Acela downstairs at Penn Station every morning. A window seat in the Quiet Car is far more valuable than any stick.
The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed five new members last week, and two of them are now part of a smaller secondary group. Former Red Wings teammates Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom are just the fifth and six members of the Hall to hail from Europe and score more than 1,000 points in the NHL.