It’s no surprise that the Hershey Bliss have always been fascinated with chocolate. They play in America’s chocolate-making capital, in an arena called the Chocolate Center. Their coach is famously obsessed with the stuff and frequently works chocolate-related metaphors into his interview. Their top line has even had their likenesses rendered in chocolate.
So when the Bliss decided to participate in a chocolate-making workshop as a team bonding experience, it was very much on-brand. But the team found it a surprisingly meaningful experience, and they believe it taught them valuable lessons that will help them next season.
The idea of attending the workshop came from coach Chip Barber. After the team lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year, Barber wanted his players to have a positive experience that they could remember fondly during the offseason. “Things kind of ended on a sour note for us,” said the coach. “And I figured, the best way to get the sour taste out of our mouths was with something sweet. And then it hit me: let’s make chocolate!”
Barber contacted the Hershey Story Museum, which invited the team to a special combination of their usual chocolate-making class and the truffle-making workshop they typically offer around Valentine’s Day. The evening began with a tasting of a variety of single-source warm drinking chocolates from around the world. The players were encouraged to make notes about the tastes they encountered and to discuss them with each other. “That part was a lot of fun,” said C Justin Valentine. “I was expecting them all to taste like, you know, regular hot chocolate. But they didn’t; they were complex and really interesting. Some of them weren’t sweet at all; they were fruity or spicy or bitter. Sometimes all of them at once. Definitely a cool thing to try!”
After they finished the tasting, the players were escorted into the Chocolate Lab. D Reese Milton was slightly disappointed; “I was expected all my Willy Wonka dreams come true,” he said, “but it was more like a science classroom full of chocolate. No Oompa Loompas, thank God; I always thought they were creepy.”
Inside the lab, the players learned about how chocolate goes from the bean to the finished product. They then got to try making their own candy bar creations using both white and milk chocolate, along with some additional items for decoration. LW Lance Sweet tried to make a bar that resembles Hershey’s jerseys. “It didn’t totally come out,” he said, “but I had fun trying it.”
After that, the players learned about truffle making and tried their hand at it. Some were surprised to learn that the chocolate treats don’t actually contain truffles, but were so named for their resemblance to the prized fungi. “I always thought it was weird that they had pigs digging chocolates out of the ground,” said Milton. “This makes much more sense.”
The players then learned how to hand-roll truffles, using both dark chocolate and ruby chocolate ganache. The latter, a naturally pink chocolate that has the flavor of berries, was a novelty for most players. “I’d never seen this crazy pink chocolate before,” said LW Russ Nahorniak. “At first I thought it was a prank or something. But it tasted pretty good, and different than any other chocolate I’d had before. Kind of like raspberries. The hand-rolling process was slow and messy, but fun.
After they finally finished rolling the ganache, they dipped their truffles in white or milk chocolate and finished them with a variety of toppings, from cocoa powder to crushed nuts to coconut.
The players raved about the experience afterward. “I definitely feel like I understand chocolate on a whole new level now,” said Milton.
They also said that they’d learned valuable experiences that would benefit them on the ice.
“I learned that in order to temper chocolate, you have to be patient and keep it within a close band of temperature in order for it to work right,” said C Spencer Kirkpatrick. “The same thing is true in hockey: to be successful, you have to be patient during the season, and not get too high or too low.”
Valentine, meanwhile, volunteered that “they taught us that truffles don’t have to be perfect circles to be right. In fact, they look better if they’re a little off. I’m going to remember that next season; instead of always looking for the perfect pass or the perfect shot, I’ll go ahead even if it’s a little off. It’ll probably still work out.”