SAN JOSE – After every road game, it’s standard practice around the league to have a row of pizzas laid out somewhere in the visitors dressing room for immediate nourishment (Sharks fans already know that defenseman Brent Burns fully partakes in the meal).
One player who may now be skipping that pizza is third year forward Tomas Hertl. Looking to have a rebound year after a difficult sophomore campaign, Hertl has made some significant changes to his diet, revealing recently that he has cut out a number of foods per doctor’s orders following the results of a blood test.
Hertl said he eats “almost dairy free and almost gluten free,” cutting out things like wheat, milk, cheese and eggs – the latter of which was his go-to pregame meal that may have been causing him trouble. Now almond milk, ham and salads are a few of his dietary staples.
So far, the changes have helped. The 21-year-old has lost much his remaining baby fat while adding more muscle.
“I feel better, and my stomach is all the time good,” Hertl said.
Although he’s actually put on a few pounds – Hertl said he’s checking in at 216, as opposed to the 210 he was listed at last season – he does look slimmer and fitter. That’s important, as one of Hertl’s main problems last season was a lack of strength on his skates. Far too often, he was forced to pick himself up from the frozen playing surface.
It’s a drastic difference compared to this time last year, when Hertl wasn’t able to train properly over the summer due to lingering issues from his surgically repaired right knee. Former coach Todd McLellan indicated more than once that Hertl’s conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be.
“I hope I am more ready this season than last time because I am working really hard, and changed some things this summer,” Hertl said.
“It should help be me strong on the puck, no falling anymore. We’ll see.”
Fortunately for Hertl, he’s had some help on his nutritious journey. Teammate Ben Smith is passionate about eating well, and has been passing along his vast knowledge to his teammate.
It’s even included some trips together to Whole Foods, where Smith apparently is teaching Hertl what to look for on labels.
“He’s open to it, I think he’s taking it a lot more seriously, that side of the game, his body – and he looks great,” Smith said. “Any way I can help and pass some stuff that I’ve learned along the way that’s helped get my body into shape and ready for games and the season, I’m always willing to help.
“He asks a lot of questions. We’ve had fun going there together.”
Smith couldn’t help but take a good-natured jab at Hertl.
“The one thing I have to say is that every time we go, someone recognizes him and he plays it off like it’s not a big deal, but he secretly loves it,” Smith said with a laugh.
Hertl is at a crossroads. He dominated out of the gate in his rookie year of 2013, scoring 15 goals in his first 32 career games. There was reason to believe that he would become the team’s next superstar, as well as a marketing staff’s dream with his affable attitude and ever-present grin.
Then came Dustin Brown, and last season, with just 13 goals and 31 points from Hertl in 82 games, including several lengthy dry spells. The list of disappointments as the Sharks’ 10-year playoff run concluded was a long one, and Hertl’s performance was near the top of it.
Is he ready now to be a part of the team’s resurgence? Joe Pavelski, who has skated with Hertl in training camp, is encouraged.
“He seems to be moving a lot better so far compared to last year,” Pavelski said. “His first year he moved really good and played [well], last year he took a little step backwards whether it was injury or training, all that stuff. It’s good to see him take control of those types of things and give himself a good opportunity.”