No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts for the Montreal Canadiens hockey tough guy
First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the legend’s nose crinkles in disapproval.
“Ferguson never would have accepted it,” huffs Henri Richard, 11-time Stanley Cup champion, uber-competitor, the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John Ferguson, the former Montreal Canadiens tough guy.
It’s a natural enough reaction from a man whose off-season preparations used to consist of switching from golf to tennis in early August.
He has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges Laraque, boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan (“a what?” Richard said), a militant one.
No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June 1.
While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political, rather than nutritional, reasons.
Everything changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.
“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals in this country and the way we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make some big changes,” Laraque said.
Though Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way I don’t forget.”
Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.
“I’ve lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.
“I think it’s also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)
Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.
But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.
Laraque cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.
Richard, who readily admits that he’s often astonished at the lengths to which today’s hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy Lafleur prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes a day to two, or so the legend goes. (“It didn’t matter, he was always faster than everyone,” Richard joked.)
And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he’s not alone in his approach.
Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.
“I find it helps my energy levels stay high throughout the season,” he said.
Cammalleri also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few yoga exercises, “but I don’t really have the patience for yoga.”
Not all the Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward Guillaume Latendresse, who has overhauled his off-season regimen in each of the past two seasons, says he switched to a high-protein diet, but that he’s not willing to renounce meat altogether.
“[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant … but if I go, I’m bringing a steak in my jacket pocket,” he joked.
So in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.
“People still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said. “There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”