By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
When it comes to healthy living, today’s Buffalo Sabres have come light years from the heady days of the French Connection, when Gil Perreault, arguably the greatest Sabre of them all, used to drink five cups of coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes during most days of hockey season.
If you think I’m joking, check out this Bucky Gleason column from nearly three years ago.
Today’s Sabres wouldn’t dream of putting so much garbage into their bodies, says Rob Ray, whose career with the team roughly bridged Perreault’s and pretty much every player on the team getting ready to head into the 2013-14 season.
Ray, 45, the former Sabres enforcer, amassed 3,207 career penalty minutes – sixth most in NHL history – during a career that spanned from 1989 to 2004.
In the months that followed his retirement, he ballooned from his playing weight of about 220 pounds to “260-something,” he said. But his son Robert John Jr., 4½, who battles food allergies, his daughter Jordan, 9, a picky eater who prefers vegetables (of all things) and his wife, Juliean, who is always conscious about what the family eats, have provided him the inspiration to push, and keep, his weight below 240.
Ray, 45, of East Amherst, has settled into a healthy lifestyle as he prepares to start a new season as the Sabres broadcast color commentator, but he now has a new food temptation – Rayzor’s Dawg House – which he and his close friend Mark Mohr opened earlier this summer in Springville. He says moderation will be key.
He also tells me the Verizon Center is Washington, D.C. has the worst media food on the road in the NHL; and the Tampa Bay and Carolina arenas have the best.
You and a partner recently opened a hot dog stand in Springville. Tell me about that.
He and I have a couple of businesses together. Sprayfoam insulation business and a distributorship for hardwood floors, doors, kitchen cabinets. This is just another adventure. We stay busy.
We met through hunting. Mark spent seven or eight years as a guide in Alaska. So we and another couple of guys go to Alaska every other year and New Mexico every other year. We hunt different things all over. We elk hunt in New Mexico, deer hunt and bear hunt and moose hunt in Alaska. Deer and turkey down here.
Do you eat what you hunt?
Where did you grow up?
In Sterling, Ontario, about two hours east of Toronto, 45 minutes from Kingston. My whole family is up there. We used to spend weekends in the Thousand Islands all the time. That was our area.
Do you weigh about the same now as you did in your playing days?
I finished at about 220 pounds and I’m at about 238 now.
Do you eat differently now?
You eat totally different. When you played, you could eat anything and everything because you wore it off. You burned it off every day. I’m still active. I’ve got a bunch of rental properties I cut all the grass for, so one day a week all you do is cut grass. But kids and work and that sort of thing, if you eat that way, oh man. You’ve got to wean yourself off of eating that way – it was tough in the beginning, but you had to.
Are there particular foods that you just had to give up?
A lot of the fried foods. You’ve got to limit yourself on the pizza. My wife, she’s pretty health conscious and the thing that probably changed our eating habits is my son, he’s 4½ now. When he was born, he was allergic to everything, so we really had to be careful with what we ate. He was allergic to all dairy, and eggs. He still has the peanuts and shellfish. That was kind of an eye-opener.
We went to a lot of organic foods to try to help curb it and not have stuff in the house that would harm him. … He’s anaphylactic to the peanuts and the shellfish. He’s grown out of the dairy and the egg side of it.
What is a typical dinner like for the family?
Usually fish, chicken. Because I hunt a lot, we eat a lot of wild game. A lot of it is elk, venison. It’s real lean. It’s good. Not a lot of burgers, anything with fat in it. My daughter is so picky, it’s usually vegetables with her.
Really? Boy, you’re lucky with her.
She’ll eat vegetables till the cows come home, and a little bit of chicken, but not a lot more. My wife’s pretty conscious of everything we eat.
What are the staples of your diet?
Every morning, we have breakfast. We all do it at the same time. And at night, we all eat together, too, which makes a big difference. We have our meats and our vegetables. Because of my daughter, we always have salad. My son, we try to eat the vegetable side with him, but he’ll eat chicken.
What do you eat on the road?
I travel every game now. Most of the time, the meals are set by the trainer for the Sabres, so when you get on the plane, it’s monitored and it’s fat-free stuff. After the game, it’s a lot of carbs and vegetables. Going to a game, it’s your turkey sandwiches, that kind of thing. Things that are low fat and high protein. So you’re not sitting around having junk every night. You get on the plane at night after a game and there’s fish and there’s chicken and there’s all types of things that aren’t going to drag you down. On the road, it helps.
Are there more temptations on the road to eat bad food?
Where it’s hard is the rinks. The Sabres go out of their way to give you a meal with variety and choice. Most places you go, they don’t. It’s junk. They’re offering it to the media and it’s cheap or free, so they don’t put anything out of any quality. Very few places – and the Sabres are one of them – give a quality, quality meal at the rink.
What’s some of the garbage that you’ve been served?
A lot of places you’re going to go in and it’s going to be fried chicken and a lot of fried foods. They don’t offer a salad, they don’t offer a soup. It’s all pastas and stuff like that, a lot of stuff that’s cheap for them.
Which city has the worst food?
Washington, I think. Washington is not a good spot. It’s a very small salad bar and they always feed you some kind of a stew or something to that effect where they can dish it out to you and you don’t have that opportunity to help yourself. Every other place, it’s there and you can have as much as you want.
Every time you go to Carolina, you know there’s going to be barbecue. There’s pulled pork and there’s barbecue every time you roll into that rink, where the media eats. It’s interesting, it’s cool.
Who has the healthiest food?
Tampa Bay has a huge, probably the biggest, salad bar, with choices. They have a carving station and it’s always either beef or turkey.
How did most hockey players eat when you were with the Sabres and how do they eat these days?
Back when I was playing, especially at the beginning, nobody put any consideration into it. You’d eat your pasta and your steak before the game or the day of the game and that was pretty much it. One of the first things to change was the steak on game day; they eliminated that because you didn’t digest it by game time. It was replaced by the pasta and the vegetables and the chicken and the fish.
They eat so healthy now, it’s ridiculous. Those kids go to the rink now, there’s a breakfast supplied for them. As soon as they’re done (with practice), there’s lunch supplied. They’re on their own for dinner at home. On the road, everything’s looked after for them. End of the game, they go for their meal and it’s all set out for them, it’s all there. They don’t have to worry about anything. And it’s all monitored by the trainer, the strength and conditioning trainer, Doug McKenney.
What do you know about the new Sabres nutrition program they’ve implemented since Terry Pegula bought the team?
It’s there. Before you never had a breakfast and lunch offered to you. It’s there every day now.
What are some of the things the players tend to eat?
It’s all the things that are all protein and carbs. It’s not a fat diet. There’s fish, chicken, pastas, salads, eggs in the morning. It’s not bacon, eggs and sausage, it’s eggs and fruits, that kind of thing.
How has training changed since you were in the league?
Back then, you went to training camp to get in shape. Now, it’s an 11-month-a-year job. Before, the second you were done in April you’d shut it down until the middle of August before you’d even skate again and get in shape, so you never put the emphasis on it.
Do you think most players today realize that the sort of nutrition and training program that they’re getting in the NHL could make the difference for them staying up in Buffalo, having a winning season, that sort of thing?
Oh yeah. At the beginning, I think it’s harder to prove that to them and it would probably be harder to prove that to guys like myself, the older guys, but I think they see what it does for you and I look at the condition these guys are in now, body fat-wise, strength-wise. I think it’s far superior on an average than what we were, because there’s so much emphasis put on it now.
Who would you say are the most fit Sabres?
Marcus Foligno, Patrick Kaleta. These guys work hard. They put a lot into it. That’s their thing. These young kids right now don’t know there’s another way of doing it, they don’t know the way we did it. In Junior now it even starts.
These guys come in here now and (some of them), they have their own trainers. They have everything they need. They go home in the summertime and they have a guy they work out with, they’ve got special therapists. There’s kids now that have their own mental-side-of-the-game people, too. It’s all supplied now, too, by the teams. But before the teams even started supplying them, these kids had this stuff, and they’ve had it since Junior. They know no different. They think it’s part of the game that has always been there, but it hasn’t.
They’re looking for any edge now?
I’ll tell you what, it’s a business now for these guys. You’ve got 20 guys on the team, you’ve got 20 individual businesses. With us, you looked out for each other. I think it was more of a team then. Now, it’s more of an individual game. But they’re so much better prepared now.
Is that what you mean by all their needs are taken care of, so that’s really kind of the difference?
There’s nothing these kids would have to go find or get. It’s supplied for them, so there’s no excuses. Concentrate on playing the game, play the game, that’s all we want you to do. We don’t want any worries, no excuses.
Is there a food you can’t resist?
There’s a lot of foods I can’t resist. Pizza, burgers, milkshakes. Love it.
And now you have a new temptation with this hot dog place.
By biggest fear was going in there and ballooning up to 300 pounds but I’ll tell you what, there’s days I’ll go in there at 8 in the morning and come home at 9 at night and I’ll go, ‘I didn’t even eat today.’ You’re just involved and you’re busy. You’re seeing it and your smelling it, but you’re not craving it.
It sounds like you’ve got some healthy options, as well.
Mark is a total health nut. But I think everyone needs your hot dogs and hamburgs. It’s all moderation. With ours, you get your chicken sandwich, you get your veggie burger. There’s something for everybody.
I hear a lot of people talk about cheat meals.
You can eat whatever you want as long as your not eating it all day, every day.
Would you make any predictions now on who might surprise a lot of Sabres fans in terms of who makes the team, who ends up playing in Buffalo instead of playing in Rochester?
I think a lot of those kids are going to have a chance. Your Girgensons and all these kids who played in Roch last year, your Grigorenkos, they’re all going to get an opportunity because that’s the way things have gone. It’s not going to be one or two of them, there could be five of them on the team this year.
You’re trying to rebuild. You just have to make sure your Tyler Myers and your Drew Staffords and your Ennises, these guys are ready to play, play the way they can play, because they’re going to be such a big part of it, to help these young guys. They’re really going to have to step up and carry the load for these kids.
When it comes to their diets, they can take care of these kids there, too?
Yeah, they’re the models on the ice and the way they live off the ice, as far as the conditioning, they’ve already been introduced to this, in Roch. They’re here in the summertime. It’s not going to be something new to them.
What else of you done to stay in good shape since retirement?
I quit drinking five years ago and I said to my wife, ‘I’ll quit drinking while you’re pregnant.’ And two months after, it was easy and I never went back.
Do you feel healthier not drinking?
Way healthier. There’s no wasted time there. It’s so much better.