Michael Del Zotto realized he needed a hobby.
One of the only single players on the Philadelphia Flyers a couple of seasons ago, the defenceman would usually head home following practice, watch TV all afternoon and have dinner before returning to the couch.
“I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something a little more productive with my down time,”‘ Del Zotto recalled.
So he got back into the saxophone — an instrument he gave up after leaving home as a teenager to play junior hockey — and bought some disc jockey turntables to mix electronic music.
“Like anything now you can go on YouTube and teach yourself,” said Del Zotto, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks this summer. “I got to the point where I was playing music in the locker room and making mixes for warmups.
“The boys started loving it and it just took off from there.”
With players from a wide range of backgrounds and countries, it’s not surprising musical tastes tend to vary in NHL locker rooms. Some like country, while others prefer electronic or rock to hip hop get in the right frame of mind.
“When you make stuff for in the room it’s understanding what guys like or throwing in some random stuff they won’t know that they may like,” said Del Zotto. “It’s tough when you have guys that like different genres to keep everyone happy.
“I like to personalize it a little bit.”
Despite being new to the Canucks, Del Zotto already rules the roost when it comes to music selection heading into his ninth NHL season.
“That’s his job now,” said Vancouver centre Bo Horvat. “He swooped into that role and he’s taken it over.
“He does a good job of getting the boys going.”
Meanwhile in Winnipeg, forward Bryan Little said the gatekeepers are Jets captain Blake Wheeler and centre Mathieu Perreault.
There’s only one real rule — rookies need not apply for the job of team DJ.
“It kind of goes a bit by seniority,” said Little. “We don’t want the young guys getting their hands on it or we might be listening to ‘High School Musical’ soundtracks.”
Entering his fourth season, Horvat said he knows that music remains a veteran’s domain.
“Do not touch the music,” said Horvat, 22, who led the Canucks in scoring last season. “I’m four years in and still don’t touch the music.”
Senators captain Erik Karlsson and forward Zack Smith usually get dibs on the tunes in Ottawa.
“Zack is more an alternative rock kind of guy, some old school stuff and that’s more the stuff I like,” said winger Bobby Ryan. “I’ve heard a lot of (Karlsson’s) Swedish music … and there’s only four guys who can relate to it.”
Maple Leafs defenceman Connor Carrick said fellow blue liner Jake Gardiner and centre Nazem Kadri are the music maestros in Toronto.
“Gards, usually he’s the morning (guy), a little more country, a little more laid back,” said Carrick. “Naz will pick it up for the afternoon.
“The beats per minute on his songs are a little higher, so it gets you going pre-game.”
Del Zotto said that the age and where players are from often has a big impact on what they want to hear.
“In New York, (former Rangers forward) Brad Richards used to like his old school rock,” he said. “In Philly, (Jakub) Voracek loved AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen.
“I don’t know how that gets him pumped up. The odd time he’d toss some of that on, and I know for sure I wasn’t the only guy complaining.”
While most NHLers might playfully argue over music, Del Zotto has a unique perspective. He performs his own shows in the off-season and has gotten to know a number of big-name DJs, including Dutch superstar Tiesto.
“I’ve been able to watch them in the studio, watch them perform live and learn a little bit,” said Del Zotto. “It’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing.”
“I went to his apartment a couple days after he got to Vancouver,” added Canucks forward Jake Virtanen. “He was spinning with his DJ set for me and (defenceman Ben Hutton) for a solid hour.
“It was cool for me to see how he did it.”
But veteran Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin is less enthused about Del Zotto’s musical tastes.
“I hope it’s not him because it’s been pretty horrible,” the 37-year-old joked. “(Hutton) was doing it last year for a bit, but it didn’t really work out so he’s fired.”
A country fan, Canucks forward Brandon Sutter said he doesn’t mind electronic music for pre-game, adding that he respects Del Zotto for putting himself out there.
“The younger guys seem to love it,” said Sutter. “If you don’t have the (guts) to put the music on yourself, you can’t make fun of the person who does.”
— With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto, Judy Owen in Winnipeg and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa