Although he is a powerful centre with fierce offensive skills, Mike Zigomanis doesn’t have the average pro hockey player build. But he’s not your average nhler. In fact, there’s nothing average about this 32-year-old. Known as much for his conduct off the ice as on it, Ziggy, as he is affectionately referred to, won the 2013 ahl Man of the Year Award for his contributions to local community and charitable organizations. Earlier in his career he won the ohl’s Most Gentlemanly Player Award in 2000.
“Gentleman” is an apt adjective for Zigomanis. Apologizing profusely for running just a few minutes late for our interview, Zigomanis emerged from a treatment room at the Toronto Athletic Club in a post-acupuncture calm and sporting a beaming smile. He is polite, personable and down to earth.
After an excellent run with the Marlies and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Zigomanis joins the Rochester Americans this season. Having played almost 200 games in the nhl, his decorated career includes a Stanley Cup championship win with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. He has also played with the Carolina Hurricanes, the St. Louis Blues, the Phoenix Coyotes, as well many AHL teams.
Zigomanis follows an excruciating training regime, even during the off-season. With regular track sessions, weight training, skating lessons, Pilates and Moksha yoga, he trains upwards of six hours a day. Despite all the calories need to fuel that output, Zigomanis is a vegan. In fact, he grows much of his own food in a robust garden at his Toronto home. Cooking most of his meals himself, Zigomanis prepares a fridge full of meals at the beginning of each week.
For a man of such breadth and multiplicity, it is fitting that the multidisciplinary sport of triathlon would appeal to him. Last April Zigomanis added triathlon training to his workouts. He completed his first one at the Toronto Triathlon Festival (ttf) this past July. Never having swam before, targeting a 1,500 m swim in Lake Ontario was no small feat, but one which Zigomanis tackled with gusto. He followed that performance with the Kingston Long Course Triathlon in August.
Zigomanis has a great sense of humour. He laughs as he describes cramping in both quads and then hamstrings just a few kilometres into the 10 km run at the ttf, and then promptly being passed by a slew of middle-aged women hitting their stride. His humility will serve him well in the sport, particularly in Ironman, which he admits is an eventual goal.
“Swimming,” he concedes, “has been a challenge because I’d never been in the open water before. I have been able to power myself though most sports that I’ve played, but swimming is pure finesse. The harder I push it, the slower I go.”
Training for triathlon has helped Zigomanis develop his endurance and challenge a system he wasn’t using as much in hockey.
“In triathlon,” he explains, “you use long-twitch muscle fibres versus short-twitch. Hockey is far more explosive.”
Can he apply what he’s learned from the world of triathlon to his upcoming season with the [Rochester] Merks? Absolutely. “I’m in better shape starting this season from that base training and I’ve learned how to better fuel my body for competition.”
His rigorous training on and off ice and his environmentally sustainable diet, are motivated by more than attempts to ensure his body responds well and continues to perform optimally. The approach fits well with his outreach efforts. While playing with the Marlies, Zigomanis purchased a suite at Ricoh Coliseum and worked with local charities to fill it with underpriviledged kids for every game. Not only did he pay for it out of his own pocket, but he also took the time after every game to meet the group and sign autographs.
Like so many of the triathletes that grace our pages, Zigomanis reminds us how the sport seems to attract incredibly productive, talented people who understand the power of community and the impetus for change that sport provides. Although he is off to nhl training camp and then to a new season with Rochester, by next summer Ziggy is sure to be swimming, biking and running his opponents down.