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Monday, September 9, 2013

James Neal: A Formula For Success by @chicksdighockey

Gary Roberts is revered in Pittsburgh.  To hear some Penguin fans talk you’d think he spent a large chunk of his career in the ‘Burgh. In reality, Roberts spent less than two seasons in the Penguin organization. In 2007, he was brought in to add a leadership presence to a young Penguins team which he did by helping them reach the playoffs for the first time in six years. Roberts became a cult hero for, among other exploits, challenging an entire Ottawa Senators line to a brawl while referees tried to no avail to remove him from the ice.  When he was healthy, Roberts could be a one man wrecking crew; a tough son-of-a-bitch with an impeccable work ethic. He parlayed his reputation on the ice with his passion for health-promoting nutrition concepts and emerged as a fitness and nutrition guru to the NHL elite. His first disciple, Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos, is the perfect example: He added 15 pounds of muscle after his rookie season and led the league in goals with 51 as a sophomore.


James Neal is a disciple of Gary Roberts:
“I started training with Gary when I was 16, taking the train into Toronto every day of the week and getting back home at dinner time,” Neal says. “With the way Gary played the game and what a legend he is, it was a bit intimidating for a young kid — but he turned out to be the nicest guy in the world.” (Pittsburgh Magazine 3/12)

Neal spends his off-season training with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Jordan Staal and other NHL stars at Robert’s training facility in Toronto. It's an intense regimen that includes a strict nutrition plan designed to get maximum performance from the body. Neal gets all of his meals delivered ready-to-eat from the whole foods grocer Nature's Emporium in Toronto when he’s training:

"Some guys complain about the food, but I actually really like it," Neal says. "It's mostly chicken, broccoli, some [lean] sausage, stuff like that."
Neal, as a Biosteel devote, is assigned a diet that has no wheat, no sugar, no soy and no processed or packaged foods. Everything must be organic, from deli meats on up, and the 26-item list of what players should eat includes goat’s milk, sunflower sprouts, mung beans, salba, chia and hemp.
"You have to take advantage of your off-season and do anything you can to improve yourself,” he said…. “I want to get better.”

What makes Roberts so credible as a role model is how he was able to resurrect his own career using a radical diet and exercise program after a serious neck injury forced him to retire at age 30. He transformed his body in a remarkable way that allowed him to return to the game he loves. Roberts went on to play 11 more seasons, retiring on his own terms four years ago. He was a prototypical power forward who had to fight through a lot of injuries caused by taking abuse in front of the net. Yet he played 1,224 game, retiring in 2009 at age 42 with 438 goals.

“We’re both from Whitby, so he was a guy I always looked up to,” Neal said, calling Roberts his role model. “We’ve had a great relationship ever since I started training with him. He keeps me focused on the task at hand. He wants the best for me. He’s great.”, Neal said in an interview prior to his Biosteel  training.

This summer, Neal was rewarded for his hard work and 2013 season performance when he was added to the list of Canadian Olympic Team hopefuls. He has spoken modestly of being honored to even be on the list of 47 players invited to the camp. Prior to Olympic orientation camp in Calgary, he told The Toronto Star:

"I just want to go in with the right mindset," said Neal. "It's a different game on big ice. It's a big change. You're going to have to adjust to different roles and do different things. The players that are going to make that (Olympic) team are going to be players who can adjust to new situations."

 Neal has proven that he can be an excellent scorer when he plays with talented forwards and there will be plenty of them on Team Canada. Over the last two seasons, the Penguins’ power forward has scored more goals (61) than anyone in the league other than Steven Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin.

An intriguing Olympic scenerio is the possibility of Neal plying on a line with Sidney Crosby. Though he has been regularly paired with Evgeni Malkin, Neal has been productive alongside Crosby. According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Neal has played only 7 per cent of his 5-on-5 ice time with Crosby the past two seasons but produced close to 11 per cent of his points. When asked about the opportunity to win an Olympic medal for his home nation as Crosby has done, Neal replied, “I think every guy wants to win a Stanley Cup a little more than a gold medal, but obviously a gold medal is very special. Any Canadian kid would love to put on that Olympic Canadian jersey.”

 James Neal seems to understand what few men his age grasp anymore that great success is paid for by hard work. Before you think James is all work and no play, he was spotted in Whitby (his hometown just outside of Toronto) at an auto-detailing shop. He was picking up his beautiful brand new white Ferrari 458 coupe with black rims and yellow calipers. And, yes, it was sporting Pennsylvania plates.

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