Busy Off-Season for Pittsburgh's James Neal

By Stephanie Lewark

Let’s hope that James Neal’s off-season is an indication of what kind of season he plans to have with the Penguins come this September / October. He at least appears to have the best intentions for working hard to make it a great one and it would seem that his move to the Pittsburgh organization along with the possibility of playing alongside one of the Penguins stars like Sidney Crosby may be the big motivation he had been lacking in Dallas. One thing is certain, he’s definitely serious about off-season training and maintenance which not only encompasses his work-out regime, but also diet and nutrition with his continued work with former NHLer / Penguin player and fellow Whitby native, Gary Roberts.
Roberts is known for his no-nonsense attitude both on and off the ice (as well as a no wheat, sugar, soy, or processed / packaged foods diet) that allowed him to return to play 11 more years in the NHL after his retiring at age 30 then moving on to retire again at the age of 43. The strict diet consists of a 26-item list that includes goat’s milk, sunflower sprouts, mung beans, salba, chia and hemp (mung beans, Adam Gretz of CBS Sports’ Eye On Hockey Blog reminds us, are “very nutritious, but they smell like death”according to Creed Bratton of ‘The Office’).
This passion and attention to detail for training and nutrition has made Roberts a much sought-after trainer by a number of professional hockey players according to NBC Sports’ ProHockeyTalk.
And most of Neal’s hockey-related conditioning activities this summer has included [some form of] Gary Roberts. This can only be a good sign for things to come this season.  He recently told the Penguins official webpage:

“I just feel so much more comfortable here in Pittsburgh. Last year was kind of a whirlwind with getting traded.”

“I’m looking forward to being settled & being focused on just hockey.”

And in the time since I started this post, the Penguins webpage has done their own story on Neal training with Roberts (and his younger brother, Mike) as well as included a short preview of a longer program, “The Offseason,” that will be featured on theScore.com later this September (I posted the video earlier today).

Last Rep NHL Day at the Farm (2011)
Last Rep / Facebook
“Last Rep NHL Day at the Farm” (August 17, 2011)
James Neal was among a few of the NHL players attending this training session. Last Rep is a company that creates a training mix made from organic ingredients (that come from The Beretta Family Farm). And “NHL at the Farm” is when they get together at the farm to train. Check out his representing Pittsburgh with the Pirates hat!
NHL BioSteel Camp (week of August 22, 2011)

NHL players at 2011 BioSteel camp
James Mirtle / Globe on Hockey
BioSteel (known by many hockey players as the “little pink drink”) is a high performance sports drink used by top athletes and “quickly becoming NHL players’ drink of choice.” It was developed by former Toronto Maple Leafs trainer, Matt Nichols. According to an interview with James Mirtle, Nicols recently reported that BioSteel is being used by close to half of the NHL.
With a good product and production, good PR must follow for success. In addition to word of mouth among the players, Nichols and Gary Roberts have organized a camp for a few of the top hockey players in the league, including Neal, for the second consecutive summer. A total of 20 stars and an additional 16 of the league’s top hockey prospects participate in a rigorous week-long camp focusing on strength training and drills. This year’s camp was sponsored by Last Rep which was mentioned earlier in this post.
The group was divided into two teams based on who each players trainer typically is and ended the week by competing against each other in a scrimmage (the goalies in attendance weren’t associated with either team – Steve Mason, Eddie Pasquale, Thomas McCollum, and Malcolm Subban – PK’s younger brother):

  • Team Matt Nichol
    Mike Cammalleri, Tyler Seguin, PK Subban, Paul Bissonnette, David Clarkson, Andrew Cogliano, Matt Stajan, Daniel Winnik, Raffi Torres, Ryan Ellis, Nik Antropov, Brendan Smith, Mike McKenzie, Greg Stewart, Jay Harrison, Tyler Cuma, Jason Wilson, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk
  • Team Gary Roberts
    Steven Stamkos, Stephen Weiss, Wojtek Wolski, Jeff Skinner, Steve Downie, James Neal, Cody Hodgson, Chris Tanev, Peter Holland, Spencer Abbott, Cameron Gaunce, John Mitchell, Mike Neal, Brandon Burlon, Ethan Werek, Chris Terry, Matt Beleskey

Similar to the growing popularity of the drink itself, the camp is becoming pretty exclusive as there is currently a waiting list (the players actually pay $10,000 to attend). But, as far as former Penguins enforcer Paul Bissonnette is concerned, it’s well worth it!

“I think these guys are paid about $10,000 a summer,” Bissonnette said of the training staff. “You think well that’s a lot of money, but it’s an investment. Because if you put an extra five goals in, you’re going to get way more than an extra $10,000 on your contract.
“And it’s a write-off, which helps out, too.”

And, of course, Neal didn’t totally eliminate fun or charity out of his off-season this summer.

James was one of a handful of NHLers who were paired up with a pro-angler and took part in the annual Fish TV Celebrity Showdown. The charity fishing tournament raises money for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation and was held in Palmer Park, Port Perry ON. Again with the Pirates hat (I am loving it; I believe it shows just how proud / enthusiastic he is to play for Pittsburgh).

James Neal at the 2011 FishTV Celebrity Show Down
photo courtesy FishTV

Last August 18th was the inaugural game for this golf tournament that raised $25,000 for the “Jump Start” at the Wooden Sticks Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ontario. A few of the other players from last year’s tournament include Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie, Michael Del Zotto, and Stephen Weiss.

Gary Roberts and NHL Friends at 2011 Celebrity Golf Tournament
Wooden Sticks

“Hockey is a passion of mine and playing in the NHL for over 21 seasons has provided me with many great opportunities. Now retired and a local North Durham resident, I have been given an opportunity to help provide local children the chance to discover their passion for sport through Jumpstart. Please join my friends and I for a great day of golf, while supporting Jumpstart North Durham” ~Gary Roberts

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