It’s one of those hidden little secrets of the NHL these days: What exactly is in all of those many green Gatorade bottles on the players’ benches during games?
Because it’s often not Gatorade. And it’s not water either.
More and more, players are filling those sponsored bottles with a new drink called BioSteel, which was developed by trainer Matt Nichol, championed by Montreal Canadiens star Mike Cammalleri and is now being used by nearly half of the league.
Nichol touts his “high-performance sports drink” as being superior to others on the market, and he has some numbers to back it up, with 18 NHL teams placing orders last season.
And this week at BioSteel’s annual camp in Toronto, 20 NHLers and 16 top prospects are all training under Nichol and using his supplements, in part to get ready for the season and also to help spread the word about the work he’s doing.
“I use it the entire year,” Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “Even off-ice training, before, during and after workouts. On-ice sessions. It’s a product we love, and it’s something I’ll use for a long time.”
“I’ve been using it all summer and it’s been good,” Phoenix Coyotes tough guy Paul Bissonnette added. “I’m on board. Anything that Matt Nichol says is pretty legit.”
What started as a “little pink drink” – a mix of amino acids and electrolytes that Nichol cooked up when he was the Toronto Maple Leafs strength and conditioning coach – finally began to catch on in a big way after Cammalleri first tried it three years ago.
He liked it so much he connected Nichol with a friend with a background in sports marketing, John Celenza, who came up with the name and eventually became the president of what’s now BioSteel Sports Supplements.
Originally just for pros, it’s now available to anyone in a few stores and online. More teams are now ordering it than ever, and the camp – in its second year – is having to turn players away.
The company has, in short, become a little known Canadian success story, taking on giants like Gatorade and Powerade and beginning to gain interest from players in the NBA and other sports.
“When you compare it to a traditional sports drink like Gatorade, that’s basically sugar water,” Nichol said. “It’s not particularly effective and I don’t think it’s particularly healthy.
“This gives athletes a performance benefit while still promoting good health. … I think at the time [it was created] Gatorade was cutting edge, but it’s not that time anymore. Things have progressed. Guys don’t use wooden sticks any more.”
Nichol is a bit of an unlikely success story himself, as the Waterloo, Ont., native didn’t play hockey at a high level and was instead a football and track star at McGill University.
He became a teacher but found his heart was in training and supplements more than lesson plans, and he took a full-time job working with athletes before going into business on his own.
After experiencing some success with several future NFL and CFL players, Nichol landed Steve Staios as his first NHL client 11 years ago.
Word of mouth then spread from there to the point Nichol was hired by the Leafs, at only 27, to be their strength coach, a role he filled for seven years until Brian Burke came in and cleaned house in 2009.
Since then, Nichol has concentrated on training players privately, gaining a reputation for being one of the hardest working people in the business.
BioSteel’s profile, meanwhile, began to rise dramatically at the same time, culminating in an endorsement from Gary Roberts on Hockey Night in Canada during the 2010 playoffs, after which Celenza’s inbox flooded with more than 600 e-mails in a few hours.
Getting their name on all those water bottles, however, probably isn’t in the cards just yet.
“Gatorade’s got a league-wide deal and a lot more money than me,” Nichol said. “They’re pretty smart. But I think you could probably drink a vodka soda out of the Gatorade bottle as long as it’s in the right bottle.”