Inside Mark Scheifele's quest to be the Tom Brady of the NHL

Mark Scheifele wants to be playing -- and playing well -- at the age of 40. Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ask any NHL player and he'll tell you Mark Scheifele has a reputation as the ultimate hockey nerd. After all, if you ask Scheifele about any NHL player, he can tell you whether he shoots left or right. But the 25-year-old Scheifele -- an ascending star who helped the Winnipeg Jets to the Western Conference finals last season with 14 goals in 17 playoff games -- has another obsession:

"I want to play until I'm 40," he said. "That's my goal. There are so many opportunities now to innovate to get a little bit of an edge, and I love exploring that. Doing the right things now will affect me 10 years from now and will give me the longevity to play until I'm old."

If Scheifele sounds like hockey's version of Tom Brady -- well, the Jets center is emulating himself after the New England Patriots quarterback.

"Tom Brady is the best in the world and only seems to be getting better in age," Scheifele said. "Why wouldn't I want to learn from him?"

Scheifele went as far as hiring a private chef last season in Winnipeg. Before they began their business relationship, Scheifele took his chef on an excursion. First, they visited Scheifele's go-to restaurant in Toronto, Impact Kitchen, for a deeper understanding of the organic menu. The second leg of the trip was to Boston, where they had an eight-hour session with Brady's former chef Allen Campbell to discuss food theory, write up a meal plan and learn exactly how the quarterback eats.

"It was amazing," Scheifele said.

As he prepares for his sixth NHL season, everything in Scheifele's training is intentional, from the app that monitors his sleep to the pineapple juice he keeps around his house -- made from the pulverized core, which holds most of the fruit's nutrients -- to the book he's reading: "Talent is Overrated."

But Scheifele wasn't always this way. He grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, as a multisport athlete who loved to have fun (and didn't know how to put on weight). To get a better understanding of how he got here, ESPN asked Scheifele to recount each summer since he was a child from a training and nutrition standpoint. Below is an illuminating window into the evolution of an elite athlete.

[Editor's note: Answers have been lightly condensed for clarity]


"I had a bunch of buddies that were all really athletic that all lived around the same area. We played football in the backyard, basketball, baseball, Ultimate Frisbee -- pretty much whatever sport we felt like playing that day, we did that. I think you have to enjoy athletics. You can't just be so focused on one sport and doing the same thing over and over. It's not like you get bored of it. But in playing multiple sports, you get to meet different friends, you get to experience a different activity -- and work at it. That's something that made me a better hockey player. Feeling pressure on one side? I learned from basketball and lacrosse. Some mental sides of the game -- I got that from playing volleyball. Little touch things -- I got those from when I played badminton. Playing different sports gives you extra skills in hockey, but it gives you a broad spectrum of what other sports are out there and you find out what you love the most. It turns out, I loved hockey the most."

Ages 13 to 16

"I didn't play a lot of hockey over the summer. If our year ended in March or April, I'd play on a spring hockey team and maybe we'd play in three tournaments, and that was just about it. Lacrosse was more my focus in the summer, and I enjoyed that. Even in my draft year to the OHL, I was still playing volleyball and basketball in high school, still doing track and field, badminton. There were times I'd show up to a hockey game in my volleyball gear or with my basketball shoes still on."

Age 16

"The first time I specialized in hockey was when I was 16. I probably started skating a little more over the summer, and I started going to the gym. I really didn't know what I was doing at the gym; I was just doing basic stuff -- squats, deadlifts -- pretty much what I saw everyone else doing, and didn't think much of it. I was a skinny kid, and I was very active, so it was tough for me to put on any weight. I'd do some cardio -- I'd go for a run or go for sprints with buddies. But nothing was specialized in what I was doing."

Age 18

"When I was 18, I got drafted into the NHL, and I started getting into a program. I still didn't have any knowledge about working out; I just did what I was told. I was told to make the NHL, I had to be big and strong; I had to be this big monster. I was 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds at the time, pretty skinny. So I just tried to eat as much as I can. You know those little Chewy granola bars? I probably ate 20 of those a day. They were full of sodium, full of sugar, full of preservatives. Now looking back it's like, what was I thinking?"

Age 19

"The next summer, I did the same thing. The same basic stuff. Did what I was told, worked with the trainer I was using in Kitchener at the time, and through the Jets, as well."

Age 20

"I moved on to [notable NHL trainer] Gary Roberts in summer of 2013. It was a little more specialized, a little more in tune with more innovative stuff, compared to what I was doing in Kitchener. More emphasis around treatment, nutrition, mobility -- how much weight you actually should do. Gary taught me what things are best to eat and the importance of timing with meals. Also, whole foods -- that was a big thing I learned from him. When you look at the ingredients of a bar, do you understand everything that was in that bar?"

Age 21

"The next year with Gary a few things changed. He was good at changing it up, a few new tweaks here, a few more nutrition things that they learned. I had the knee injury; it was a slow process [of recovery]. I ended up missing the end of the [previous] season and came back and ended up playing in the world championships that year. It was my first real serious injury, so my program was tailored a little to strengthening a few areas in that knee.

"I also started to focus on the mental side of training when I met Adam Oates. He came to Gary's once to see [Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos]; I guess they had dinner after, Stammer asked, 'What do you think of Scheifele?' and [Oates] said, 'I think he can get better and I want to work with him.'

"He was starting to get into personal skill coaching at the time, so he contacted me through a family friend. Obviously, I was just stoked to talk to Adam Oates on the phone, but we got to talking -- and working ever since. He's probably the smartest hockey mind I've ever met. He's done a lot in terms of thinking about your body and thinking about what you're actually doing."

Age 22

"I used to be very dogmatic. There has to be some trial and error to everything. You can't just say, 'This is my diet now. Somebody told me to go keto, so I'm going to go full-blown keto.' What if it doesn't work for you? What if your energy is super low? What are you going to do -- stick to it because you were told to? I've done a ton of DNA testing, genetic testing, food intolerance testing. When somebody takes the supplement over and over -- the same brand of supplements, that's not great for you. I was eating eggs every single day for four years. Then I did a food sensitivity test, and they said you were sensitive to eggs -- yeah, that's because I ate it every day for four years. So I cut them from my diet."

Age 23

"Training for me now, it wasn't about lifting the most weight I could and trying to compete with whoever was beside me. I was doing what was best for me. It wasn't the old-school mentality of you have to be big and strong to be a good player. It was new. I need to be able to move well; I need to be able to stick handle and keep my mobility throughout my whole body so I am able to make plays all over the ice. As a centerman, as a scorer, I need to be able to make plays all over the ice to help my team."

Age 24

"As you get older, guys will skate, then go right to a workout, then go right to pilates, and go right to yoga and then only get six hours of sleep and they're dead the next day and they try to do it again. No, their neurological system needs a lot more time to recover. It's not like one night's sleep and your body is ready to go fast again. When you do that one day, chances are that body part isn't neurologically ready to go fast again. That's why you switch your days -- lower-body the next day if you do upper-body the first day, you trigger that. But you need time to rest and let your body recuperate so you can let your body go fast again. Then they do five days a week the entire summer and never take a rest or a few days off. I started to think about rest, but I didn't start taking days off until this summer."

Age 25

"I was kind of all over the place this summer. I'm at the point now where all I needed was a gym and ice. If I had a gym with all the proper equipment -- and supervision from a coach -- I was able to do all my proper workouts. I have a sleep cycle app that I downloaded this summer. I wake up a lot in the middle of the night. A lot of it is due to your body searching for sugar because you ate too close to when you went to bed. For me, optimal sleep is eight hours, but I love nine hours and try to get it if I can, but my schedule doesn't always allow for that. I'm also not a great sleeper on the plane; it's just not comfortable for me.

"I'm very focused on nutrition; nutrition is the umbrella over everything. Then you need proper training, skating properly and mobility and all of that stuff under it. But essentially, it's rest and nutrition. I've started to reintroduce eggs a little bit every once in a while. It's all about adapting.

"I still try to play as many sports as I can in the summer. I love beach volleyball, I love basketball, I love football. Anytime I can get on a field and do whatever, I love it. When I was in California this summer, [teammate] Josh Morrissey lived with me for two weeks and we'd shoot hoops for an hour. We'd take a nap during the day, and if we had a little time before dinner, we'd play horse or 21, and we enjoyed it so much.

"I'm sure I'll change it up next summer. Science is so vast now, you don't even know what's out there. People that are dogmatic in their training and nutrition stay the same. You do the same thing every summer, you're not going to get better."