Jaccob Slavin says it’s “anything chocolate” and for Noah Hanifin, it’s apple pie.
Brett Pesce, laughing, quickly replied, “Mint chocolate chip ice cream.”
Favorite desserts? Yes, but also what the Carolina Hurricanes’ three rookie defensemen tend to eat – their “sin food”– when they do divert from their in-season nutritional regimen.
With their first NHL season in its final stages, the three are paying even closer attention to eating the right things and getting the right amount of rest. As Pesce put it, “Sleep is my bread and butter right now.”
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None of the three believes he has hit the so-called “wall” this season, that physical and mental barrier where fatigue sets in and concentration tends to fade.
“There have been a few games where I’ve gone on the ice and said, ‘Wow, this is a grind and I feel a little tired,’” Hanifin said. “For me, it’s recognizing that and getting my rest and coming back better the next game.”
They’ve done a good job away from the rink looking after themselves. They’ve been very mature with their decisions.
Canes coach Bill Peters
Pesce, 21, said Canes assistant coach Steve Smith, who works with the defenseman, has told them, “Some days you’re going to feel like a million bucks and some days like five cents” and that they need to be able to handle the down days.
“I think I took that to heart,” Pesce said. “If you’re not feeling your best, you can kind of manage it in the right way and still play your game where you’re not hurting the squad.”
How many five-cent days has he had? Another Pesce smile.
“Not many, honestly,” he said. “Probably just a handful.”
Hanifin has played 57 games this season, Pesce 47 and Slavin 41. According to the Canes, Carolina is one of four NHL teams to use three rookie D-men this season and leads the league in games played by rookie defensemen.
Hanifin, the Canes’ first-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft, was 18 when the season began. A year ago, he was at Boston College, playing 37 college games for the Eagles.
Slavin, 21, played 34 games at Colorado College and Pesce 31 at New Hampshire last season. For all three, 40-plus games against the best players in the world is uncharted territory.
No classes to attend or semester exams. Just Alexander Ovechkin one night and Sidney Crosby the next, followed by John Tavares and Steven Stamkos.
Canes coach Bill Peters said the Christmas break and then the NHL All-Star Game break were beneficial for the three defensemen, giving them some needed rest at the right times. All three, he said, appear refreshed, energized and ready.
“They’ve done a good job away from the rink looking after themselves,” he said. “They’ve been very mature with their decisions.”
In the Canes’ 4-2 loss Sunday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pesce logged 22 minutes, 22 seconds of ice time. Slavin played almost 22 minutes and Hanifin more than 17.
Slavin assisted on Joakim Nordstrom’s shorthanded goal in the first period but later was on the ice for three Lightning goals, including Stamkos’ power-play score in the third that gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead.
Slavin said he had a three- or four-game stretch this season where he wasn’t at his best, recalling a game against the New York Rangers when he fanned on a pass and was pickpocketed for a Rangers goal.
“I don’t know if it was due to fatigue or not but I wasn’t playing my game then,” Slavin said. “But I think I got over it pretty quickly.”
Hanifin has a plus-one rating for the season. Slavin is even and Pesce minus-one. There are other fancy stats, but the plus/minus rating is an indication of sound play at even strength.
With Justin Faulk missing the past six games with an injury, Slavin has played with Ron Hainsey on the top defensive pairing. He has Peters’ trust.
Slavin said he has been able to maintain his weight at about 200 pounds – he often lost weight in college – while Pesce and Hanifinl also are about 200.
Slavin said he eats a lot of chicken, with occasional pasta or steak. Pesce confessed he dined on a lot of burgers and fries in college but now tries to stay gluten-free and organic, saying, “You’re never overly energized but you never hit that wall.”
Hanifin has been rooming with Canes forward Nathan Gerbe and his family. He said he “eats whatever Gerbe eats” but mostly it’s a lot of vegetables and fish. The good stuff.
And maybe some apple pie at times.