DANBURY — Fast food is awesome.
But it’s probably something you shouldn’t eat all too often, or at all if you’re a high school athlete.
New Fairfield-Immaculate boys hockey coach Mike Bonelli and his staff are taking a proactive approach to what their athletes consume on a daily basis as a part of their overhaul of the program. The Mustangs have installed a nutrition plan that begins with monitoring what players eat before, during and after practices or games.
New Fairfield is in its last year with the co-op; Immaculate will be its own program going forward and is taking strides to establish itself as one of the top programs in the state.
“It was a little crazy that a high school program was getting something like that because you look around the state and I don’t think anyone has something like this,” said New Fairfield senior Sam Mitchell, one of the co-op’s top players. “Nutrition is something I always thought was important, so to have something like this to use it at the rink is really cool.”
Trips to nearby Taco Bell, McDonalds and Burger King were rampant, said Bonelli, who conducted a team survey to gain information as to the habits of his squad. Now kale, almond milk and fruit make up the cooler that lies in what can only be described as a break room in most adult office buildings. Instructions for how to make smoothies and shakes are taped to the shelves.
“When I got here there was a lot of wish lists for what we wanted to do with the kids,” said Bonelli. “One of the things we noticed right away was the discussion we had with the kids getting sick in the middle of the season and the flu season going through. It all started revolving around what are they eating, what are they doing in the preseason and the postseason and in-season.”
Bonelli said it’s difficult to keep the shelf stocked now as his team has largely embraced the transition. A catering company feeds the squad after games. Parents pooled together funding for this endeavor; they soon realized it became price wash compared to the money spent on fast food each day.
“When they first told me I was like how much is it really needed,” said Immaculate senior Ryan Fanella. “I think I put good enough food in my system but now that I see it, it’s absolutely amazing. … When I first tried the smoothies I was hesitant.”
It’s the start of a bigger project for Bonelli, who previously coached Immaculate to a Division II state title in 2004. He hopes to apply nutritional techniques to the youth program and future Mustangs, further preparing them for the next level. A full-time nutritionist will join the school in the offseason, Bonelli said.
“It’s very hard to implement, you have to have a parent group who are committed, a coaching staff that’s committed and athletes that are committed,” Bonelli said. “The nutritional piece is the most important … I don’t think we’ve hit the tip of the iceberg of where we want to be with the program development that we’ve done so far.”
A top-notch skate sharpener along with tape also sit in the room to ensure players don’t have to scramble around before practice or games. More time spent in the locker room, or player performance center, will only bring the group closer together, Bonelli said.
Bonelli and his staff have also taken film study to the next level, utilizing professional software (XOS) to enhance player development off the ice. Assistant coach Alexis DeMolina spends up to 15 hours per game creating clips and breaking them down for each player.
A telestration feature allows DeMolina — who works with student managers to teach them the software — to highlight players in video and identify what happened on a shift positively or negatively. He pauses the film and highlights a shift during a game against Cheshire where all three forwards were too high in the defensive zone, which led to a turnover. The software also contains a statistical database; DeMolina can pull up how each of his kids do on face-offs against a left-handed player.
“It gives us a chance to really coach these guys in an NCAA-model, and get them ready for what they’re going to be exposed to at that next level if that’s somewhere they want to go,” DeMolina said.
Bonelli has also had a visualization specialist visit with his group to work on the mental aspect of the game. Making sure his players are in the correct mindset before taking the ice is as important as being prepared tactically.
This is especially critical to junior goalie Scott Dobos, who plays the most mentally demanding position on the ice.
“I feel I do that a little bit, but I don’t think about it too much,” said Dobos, who is a junior at Immaculate. “I really had to think about it more. I felt like I did it already, but it’s something I want to think about.”
Bonelli has drawn on his wide hockey network to help set up creative development techniques for his players; Bonelli is a USA Hockey Level 5 coach who has coached at virtually every level at some point during his career.