When I arrived at the row where my fellow Deseret News writers were seated, most of them shook their heads in bemused disbelief at my balanced meal. While they were still trying to figure out the important aspects of hockey, such as "icing" (not the kind one finds on cakes), "offsides," and "charging," I was eating dinner. After all, the games start at 7 p.m., and I was right on schedule for my evening repast.

Except for a few diehards who expressed a nostalgia for nitrates - wanting hot dogs - they enjoyed a few forkfulls of the large and fluffy steaming baked potato ($1.75), covered with melted cheese and broccoli, one of several choices of topping, incidentally. (Other toppings included bacon and cheese, chili, and sour cream.) They also expressed some pleasant disbelief at the "crudite," as cut vegetables and dip ($1.75) might be called by French fans of the game in Montreal.As I munched on my steamy slice of Little Caesar's pizza, I informed them that hot fudge sundaes with hand-dipped ice cream would be my dessert between the second and third periods. They just chuckled.

While the food at the Salt Palace does not quite compare with the urbane bills of fare in larger sports towns - sushi is served in Los Angeles, and New York fans slurp oysters on the half shell - it reflects many of the changes toward lighter and healthier dining. It certainly is a far cry from my early days attending hockey games in Detroit's Olympia. There crazed fans choked on cigar smoke while wolfing down hot dogs, peanuts and beer, all balanced in their laps. As a kid, besides trying to get Gordie Howe's autograph, one of my great challenges was getting home without being sick.

That's not to say there aren't any of the more "traditional" sports snacks. The Salt Palace offers several different sizes of hot dogs, including jumbo cheese and chili dogs, peanuts and popcorn, and carbonated drinks. But during my recent visit it was fun to nosh on the enormous hot Dutch pretzels ($1.25), a pastrami and Swiss on rye ($2.75), and sip apple juice from an iced cup amidst the roar of the crowd. No matter how civilized the cuisine, it still does not deter any fan from a hardy yell of "Throw the bum out."