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Nutritional revolution helps fuel new generation of NBA stars – The Globe and Mail



Tristan Thompson during Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 30, 2019 in Independence, Ohio. Brampton, Ont., native Thompson is the lone Canadian on the Cavs’ roster.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Minutes after the final buzzer sounded on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 117-97 loss to the Toronto Raptors on New Year’s Eve – the team’s second 20-point loss to the NBA defending champions in two weeks – the visiting locker room chatter quickly turned to a slightly different cross-border rivalry.

Namely, whether fast food tastes better in the United States or Canada.

Brampton, Ont., native Tristan Thompson, the lone Canadian on the Cavs’ roster, maintained that occasionally greasy fast food in his home country is every bit as good as anything he can get in Cleveland. Georgia native Collin Sexton, however, while chewing on a piece of baked chicken from the post-game meal, was having none of it.

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Either way, thanks to the rigorous preparations put in place by the team’s strength and conditioning staff, it’s a debate that the Cavaliers hope won’t actually be put to the test on game days.

“We’re not going to provide you fried food pregame,” says Derek Millender, the head of strength and conditioning for the Cavaliers. “It’s not going to happen. You know what, we will give you a chicken option; we’re not going to give you French fries, but we’ll give you a potato option.”

Now in his 10th season with the Cavaliers, Millender has observed wholesale changes to the area of NBA nutrition, particularly as it extends to visiting teams. When he started as an assistant strength coach with the Cavs in the 2010-11 season, he says the thought of a visiting team catering a pregame or postgame meal was largely unheard of. The extent of NBA arena hospitality was a plate of peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches, possibly accompanied by a bowl of fruit.

“So if you wanted a pregame meal you would have to order it from the hotel and bring it over with you,” he says. “Or we had players ordering food from concessions and they’d pay the ball boys to go grab chicken tenders and fries, or chicken wings.”

That has all changed during Millender’s tenure with the team, though. He credits ownership with taking a money-no-object approach to health and wellness, and at both the team’s arena and practice facilities in Cleveland, the Cavaliers now employ chefs and nutritionists who work in state-of-the-art kitchens.

But on the road, those factors are harder to control, particularly for teams constantly criss-crossing the continent on planes and buses and staying in a multitude of different hotels. For players such as Thompson, who was drafted by the Cavs in 2011, three years before LeBron James returned to Cleveland and they won a championship together, nutrition is every bit as important as blocks and rebounds.

It wasn’t always that way, however. During his one year at the University of Texas, he admits he lived on Wendy’s chicken nuggets and fries while turning himself into the fourth overall pick in the draft. But the return of James to Cleveland, combined with the team acquiring Kevin Love from Minnesota, helped instill better nutrition habits in the 6-foot-9 centre, who says his go-to meal now is a combination of chicken, rice and vegetables.

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“It’s very easy,” Thompson says, “especially when you see great players and you see what their regimens are, especially with Bron and Kev, with them being all-stars and being Hall of Fame players, the way they carry themselves, night in and night out, why not follow their lead with that stuff?”

With the Cavaliers now in rebuilding mode and the likes of James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith gone, the 28-year-old has ascended to a leadership position on the team. And though he’s out of contract at the end of the season – putting his national team availability for June’s Olympic qualifier in Victoria in some doubt – he’s put himself in the best possible position, averaging a career-best 12.6 points and 2.2 assists while starting all 33 games.

How much of that is down to nutrition is a matter of debate, but Thompson isn’t about to undersell its effect on his career. In fact, as have many other players, he has hired a chef to cook at his house, removing some of the guesswork of tracking calories and nutrients once his games are done around 10:30 at night.

“It takes away the whole question and takes away from making bad decisions,” he says. “Because usually the things that are open late at night are not that good for you. So for me being able to have that opportunity, it’s the best investment I ever made in my career.”

For games in Toronto – which aren’t as frequent now as they were during the three consecutive years the Raptors and Cavs met in the postseason – Thompson also benefits from some home cooking of sorts.

Wellness chef Andrew Muto, who works with the likes of Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos every summer at the NHL training camp run by Gary Roberts, has been catering for the Cavaliers for the past five seasons at Millender’s request.

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Overhauling long-held nutritional habits wasn’t an overnight success story, however. The first time he catered for the team, much of the spread, which included organic Irish salmon fillets and quinoa, went untouched by the players, some of whom asked specifically for PB&J sandwiches instead.

Muto, who operates a catering business out of Vaughan, Ont., estimates that maybe 20 per cent of the food was consumed the first time. But he understands why. There’s a huge psychological aspect to food and eating, he explains, noting that food such as PB&J sandwiches gives some players the comforting feelings of childhood. But as with Millender and the Cavs, he has learned along the way, and now has players happily consuming pregame meals of salmon, kale and coconut rice.

“When I put grill marks on the salmon, they eat it; when there are no grill marks, they didn’t eat it,” he says. “It’s because they feel safer that it’s been cooked better or that’s what they’re used to having, that’s what they’ve seen constantly. Anything with grill marks indicates it’s okay.”

While Millender tries to find wellness chefs in each of the Cavaliers road stops, he says that there aren’t many out there who have as much passion for food as Muto, who goes out of his way to try to replicate the jerk chicken that Thompson grew up with, for example, but with a baked, not fried, version.

“We try to always have a familiar protein and then a familiar carb,” Millender says. “Food means a lot to people. It’s a very special thing and if you come across as someone who doesn’t care it can be bad.”

For players such as Love, who readily admits he was “bigger” and “doughy” when he first came into the NBA fresh out of UCLA, figuring out the nutrition part of the game is a huge part of any success they might have. But he says that each player has individual needs, which makes it tougher.

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“You see it from guy to guy,” Love says. “You can’t just put something in a box and say, ‘This is what you have to eat,’ because I think everybody is slightly different in that respect.”

And whether it’s catered meals provided by local chefs such as Muto or food sourced at other establishments such as Impact Kitchen, a gluten-free restaurant with a pair of locations in downtown Toronto, Love says Millender’s approach brings a lot to the table when the team’s on the road.

“I went there after practice and it was so good and so healthy I was like, I’m going to order it so … my girlfriend and I had it for dinner last night and it was great,” Love said of Impact Kitchen, which has become something of a Cavaliers hangout while the team is in Toronto.

“So [there’s] no unhealthy options in these cities, you come to accumulate different [go-to] places and Derek has been huge in that.”

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Rocket advance with win in 3OT thriller | – American Hockey League



The Laval Rocket are off to the Eastern Conference Finals after a wild 6-5 triple-overtime victory over the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.

The Rocket completed a three-game sweep of the Amerks and will face either Charlotte or Springfield in the next round.

Working on a power play following a delay of game penalty against Rochester, former Amerk Jean-Sébastien Dea wristed a shot that beat Aaron Dell at 1:51 of the third OT period to give the Rocket the victory. It was the second goal of the night for Dea, and came on Laval’s 60th shot of the evening.

Rochester nearly escaped with a Game 3 victory, scoring three times in the third period to take a 5-4 lead before Jesse Ylönen netted the equalizer for the Rocket with 1:07 remaining in regulation.

Back home in front of an energetic crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks struck quickly when Mark Jankowski pounced on a loose puck and scored his sixth goal of the playoffs just 1:04 into the contest.

JJ Peterka made it 2-0 in favor of Rochester with a power-play goal at 8:05, and that lead held until late in the second period, when Laval scored four goals in a span of 3:56 to swing the game in their favor.

Brandon Gignac started the comeback with 6:08 to go in the second period with a nifty deflection of a Corey Schueneman shot from the point. Danick Martel tied things up 55 seconds later, taking Gabriel Bourque’s pass from behind the net and snapping home his fifth goal of the series.

Just 76 seconds after that, the Rocket took their first lead of the night as Xavier Ouellet floated a shot from the left point through traffic that found the top corner over the glove of Aaron Dell.

And with 2:12 to go before intermission, Dea put Laval in front by two, hitting an open cage with Dell out of position following a collision with a teammate in front.

Rochester regrouped during the break and needed just 1:32 to tie things back up. Brett Murray scored 13 seconds into the third period to pull the Amerks to within 4-3, and Peterka got his second of the night 1:19 later off a slick feed from Peyton Krebs.

Murray then scored his second of the period at 8:35, getting a piece of Ethan Prow’s shot from the point and deflecting it home to put Rochester back in front.

Laval outshot Rochester 24-12 during sudden death and killed off two Amerks power plays before converting on their own for the winner.

Cayden Primeau (6-1) made 34 saves and earned his fourth consecutive victory in net for the Rocket. Dell (5-5) stopped a career-high 54 shots for Rochester.

North Division Finals (best-of-5)
N3-Laval Rocket vs. N5-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – LAVAL 6, Rochester 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 23 – LAVAL 3, Rochester 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Laval 6, ROCHESTER 5 (3OT)

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Bozak scores OT winner, Blues rally vs. Avs to stave off elimination –



DENVER (AP) — Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues experienced just about every emotion imaginable over the course of a win-or-season-ends game in which they fell behind by three goals.

Ultimately, they landed on this improbable one — elation.

Bozak scored 3:38 into overtime and the Blues fended off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, overcoming a pair of deficits in a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.

Bozak, a fourth-line center, unleashed a shot from near the blueline that got past Darcy Kuemper, capping a remarkable comeback for St. Louis.

“It was an amazing hockey game,” Bozak said. “I’m sure everyone that was watching thought the same thing.”

Robert Thomas had two goals, including the tying tally with 56 seconds left in regulation, for a resilient Blues team. It’s the latest game-tying goal for the Blues when facing elimination, according to NHL Stats. Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk also scored, Nick Leddy had four assists and Pavel Buchnevich had two.

They never doubted — even down 3-0 late in the second period and 4-3 late in the third.

“You’ve got nothing to lose, you might as well throw it all out there,” Thomas said. “That was our mentality.”

The comeback offset a hat trick from Nathan MacKinnon, who looked like he might have just turned in a signature moment with goal No. 3. He went end-to-end, working his way around Blues defenseman Leddy with nifty stick work and lifting a shot over goaltender Ville Husso for a 4-3 lead. It was his second career postseason hat trick.

Hats hit the ice.

“Doesn’t matter,” MacKinnon said of his feat. “Looking to get a win.”

Thomas tied it up with Husso on the bench for an extra skater, setting the stage for Bozak, who played college hockey down the road at the University of Denver.

To think, he didn’t play much down the stretch of the third period, with the Blues rolling out just three lines. When he got his chance in OT, he made the most of it.

“There’s definitely no such thing as a bad shot,” Bozak said. “So just tried to get it through the traffic and it went in. So that’s awesome.”

Game 6 is Friday in St. Louis.

The Blues have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take a playoff series twice in their history _ 1999 against Phoenix and 1991 versus Detroit.

They’re looking to write another chapter.

“This team’s come from behind quite a bit this year in games so they don’t give up,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog also scored and Bowen Byram had two assists for the Avalanche, who were on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2002.

Instead, they have to wait — and wonder. The second-round has proven to be a big hurdle for the Avalanche. They’ve been eliminated at this stage in each of the last three postseasons.

“You sulk for three minutes and you move on. Simple as that,” Landeskog said. “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy.”

Husso made 30 saves for St. Louis. He took over in Game 3 when Jordan Binnington was injured following a collision between Nazem Kadri and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen that caused Kadri to crash into Binnington.

Afterward, Kadri received racist death threats on social media, which led to increased security to protect him. He responded in Game 4 with a hat trick. On Wednesday, fans along the boards held up signs that read “Stand with Naz.”

Kuemper stopped 25 shots.

MacKinnon came out flying in the first period, taking five shots and scoring twice to give the Colorado an early 2-0 lead. Those were the first two goals of the series for MacKinnon, who has seven in the postseason.

The speedy MacKinnon also had an assist to give him 82 career playoff points. He became the fourth player in franchise history with 80 or more postseason points, joining the company of Sakic (188), Peter Forsberg (159) and Peter Stastny (81).

After Landeskog made it 3-0 just over 4 minutes into the second period, Tarasenko knocked in his first goal of the series 10 1/2 minutes later to jumpstart the Blues.

“We got on our heels a little bit,” said MacKinnon, whose team is 4-0 on the road in these playoffs. “We wanted it so bad, I guess. … Win the third, go to the conference finals, whatever. It’s one period. Got to keep our game going, stay aggressive. That’s what we’ll do.”

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Canada Soccer cancels men’s national team friendly vs. Iran in Vancouver –



TORONTO — Canada Soccer has cancelled a planned friendly with Iran in the face of growing criticism.

In a one-paragraph statement, the governing body gave no reason for the cancellation of the scheduled June 5 game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.

But the idea of hosting the Iranian team, ranked 21st in the world, has drawn fire since it was first announced.

At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” pointing the finger at Canada Soccer. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”

Association spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, said in an interview last week. “What kind of friendship do we have with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

“We want the (Canadian) government to take them to international court. And instead of that, we get humiliated by them … I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back — (as well as) the other family members. After 28 months we don’t see any sign of seeking justice here. We don’t see sign of taking Iran to any international forum. And instead of that they invite the (Iran) soccer team here.”

Conservative MPs added their voice to the protest on Wednesday. And the PM said this week that it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country.

The Iran game was to be the first of a two-game Vancouver homestand. The Canadian men open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.

Canada, ranked 38th in the world, and Iran are both preparing for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November.

For Canada Soccer, the Iran contest was a rare chance to test the Canadian men against a team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Canadians have played just two teams from outside their region since John Herdman took over as coach in January 2018: a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018.

The FIFA International window opens Monday, with players arriving from their clubs from around the world. Now they will get extended training time rather than a match ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League fixtures.

Canada has not played on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on March 27. The Canadian men last played at B.C. Place in March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.

The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.

Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.

Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.

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