It’s been two weeks since former Michigan Wolverines forward Mike Cammalleri was announced as a new business partner with the National Hockey League at the 2022 draft in Montreal.
A co-founder of BioSteel Sports Nutrition in 2009, Cammalleri met the media to discuss the company’s multi-million, multi-year contract to replace Gatorade as the league’s official hydration drink.
Financial details of the deal weren’t disclosed but Cammalleri said BioSteel has “come full circle” from the days when he developed the idea while playing 15 years in the NHL from 2003-2018 and while attending Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1999-2002.
“I was training with some of the world’s foremost experts in strength and nutrition, starting with my days back at the University of Michigan,” Cammalleri said. “One of the topics we discussed was watching what you consumed. We were careful of certain products with harmful sugars, food dyes or food coloring, artificial ingredients and preservatives.
“It got to the point in my pro career where I was ordering so many different things and mixing them together. It wasn’t a viable solution so I approached my childhood best friend (John Celenza, now a co-CEO of BioSteel with Cammalleri) and put five things on the table and said, ‘Why don’t we put this into one bottle?’
“We went through a year of research and development and then I started training with Matt Nichol, who had had similar challenges as the strength coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. We brought him on as a partner and came up with healthier, cleaner hydration for pro athletes and then eventually to the everyday consumer.”
Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mathieu Schneider isn’t surprised Cammalleri made the transition to entrepreneur from high-scoring forward with the Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers.
Now a special assistant to the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, Schneider, who assisted on Cammalleri’s first NHL goal with the Kings in 2002 and rented his California home to Cammalleri during his second stint with Los Angeles, was in Montreal to announce the deal between BioSteel, the NHL and NHLPA.
“I’m very proud of what he’s (Cammalleri) been able to do off the ice and doing it while he was on the ice,” Schneider said. “He’s a super role model for our young guys to be continually developing as a person and understanding that hockey is a great part of your life but you still have an awful lot of life to live after you retire from the game. Mike understood that a very early age.
“He’s a very thoughtful guy who’s not afraid to take risks. When we were on the (NHL) competition committee, he always had some out-of-the-box ideas and wasn’t afraid to share them. He was forward thinking, very intentional so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows him that this company has become so successful.”
The grandson of Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side of the family, Cammalleri was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, just north of downtown Toronto. After playing his final two years of Ontario junior hockey with the Bramalea Blues (191 points in 87 games), he recorded 131 points in 110 games with coach Red Berenson’s Wolverines, advancing to the Frozen Four in two of his three seasons, losing in the semifinals to Boston College in 2001 and Minnesota in 2002.
“The University of Michigan is a very special place for me,” said Cammalleri, who studied management and communications. “I made some lifelong friendships and learned lessons that would be applicable in the business world. I really do believe that our life is just the sum of our relationships and how we treat each other.
“One caveat of my time at Michigan was my scholarship was endowed by Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Connie Kinnear. Tom, at the time, was the dean of entrepreneurial studies at the business school and he brought me around to a venture capital meeting when I was 18 years old. It was nice to get exposed to business at a young age.”
A second-round pick by the Kings while attending Michigan in 2001, the 5-9, 185-pound Cammalleri registered 642 points in 906 NHL regular-season games with 32 points in 32 playoff games. In 2010, he tied the Canadiens’ playoff scoring record set by Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur with seven goals in seven games.
When Cammalleri faced the Red Wings during the team’s 25-year playoff run with Stanley Cup titles in 2002 and 2008, he remembered “the frustration of chasing the puck all night” and watching seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom “always getting his stick on the puck.”
“When I was playing, I was coy about my company,” Cammalleri said. “I didn’t want people knowing about my involvement. Now, I don’t have the same conflict of interest. It’s fine that people know about my role with the company. My comfort level is better. As I grow older in life, hopefully I can make valuable contributions.”
Beginning in the 2022-23 NHL season, BioSteel products will be featured on each bench, penalty box and goal net. In addition, BioSteel will have a year-round platform for brand programming with NHL marks, logos, teams and players, including the scouting combine and draft. They will also be the presenting partner of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given to the top NCAA player in the nation.
Headquartered in Toronto, Cammalleri was in Michigan this week to meet with local BioSteel distributor John Shouneyia, a former Wolverines teammate and owner of Value Center Marketplaces in Clinton Township and in Madison Heights and Johnny Pomodores Fresh Market in Farmington Hills.
“It’s a heavy cash-flow business,” the 40-year-old Cammalleri said. “We’ve had to finance the business, raise capital, bring in partners and try and find growth and a route to market. It’s an industry dominated by some pretty big players that everyone knows. There’s many challenges but also opportunities. It’s been a fun journey.”