PITTSBURGH-When the Pittsburgh Penguins went back to work this week, something was missing.
It was the production crew from HBO that had been following the team around for several weeks.
HBO was charged with documenting the Penguins and Washington Capitals for a four-part reality series leading up to the Jan. 1 Winter Classic.
The last installment of the show aired, the same night the Penguins had a home game against Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center, so the players hadn't seen the fourth and final episode.
But they'd seen enough to like it, and to collect feedback from family and friends.
"It's been all good, all positive," defenseman Paul Martin said. "I think people are getting a look at what we do, too, every day.
"The only negative thing is when Grandma sees the swearing, she doesn't like that very much. Other than that, it's good. It's good for the game, good for people to see what we do day in and day out, on the road. I think it's fun."
The Penguins had no choice in the matter. The NHL wanted to promote the Winter Classic. The league will also be negotiating new TV contracts after this season, so the NHL was anxious to show hockey and its players in a non-traditional way.
The players were told that cameras and microphones would have access to areas traditionally off-limits to media.
"I was apprehensive," winger Matt Cooke said. "From the beginning, we said just be yourself. We wanted to portray ourselves as us."
That was coach Dan Bylsma's biggest hope. He knew that some players have different personalities behind the scenes and he wanted viewers to see the players that way.
Evgeni Malkin, shy and uncertain of his English skills with reporters, is a different person with teammates.
Sidney Crosby, always guarded in public comments, has a different side with his peers.
"As it played out, I was happy to see that people got to see what our team and players are like," Bylsma said. "From that standpoint I was really excited how it played out. "
The cameras and microphones were everywhere. They took close-ups when players had cuts stitched in the training room. They were on the flights when the players, not unlike high school kids, playfully insulted each other while playing video games.
They were in the hotel when players pulled pranks on younger teammates. They were in meetings, there when Washington coach Bruce Boudreau used the same expletive 15 times in less than a minute.
They were there when Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero reviewed each player after a game and gave Cooke a failing mark.
"You can't be at your best for 82 games," Cooke said. "You try to be. We have a rating system every game and we go over it with the coaches. You know what you got, and you know how you played. I think that honesty in that scoring system is good because it keeps you accountable."
Eventually, the players adjusted to the constant presence.
"You get used to it," winger Mike Rupp said. "Every once in a while you might be talking about something you don't want them to hear. They come around with the cameras and you just kind of stop. Other than that, you know they're there, but you don't, really."
Center Mark Letestu said he enjoyed the glimpse at the Capitals, too.
"It was interesting to see the inside of another locker room," he said.
Maybe this will all pay off 10 or 20 years down the road, when the players are out of hockey and have a detailed document of a few weeks in one season.
"I'll make sure I get all the DVDs," Rupp said. "It's something my kids can watch when they get older."
When the players are finished with hockey, they'll probably appreciate looking back on the special camaraderie that teammates have.
"It probably portrayed us better than we thought it would," Letestu said. "We are a loose bunch like that. We're always joking around, and they did a good job of portraying us as a team."
Question of the week
Is there a place in the world you've never been that you would like to visit?
n Matt Cooke: "Fiji. My wife and I will get there at some point. You don't want to just go there for five or six days, you want to go and enjoy it. So we'll probably wait until I'm done playing to go there."
n Max Talbot: "Right now I'd say Hong Kong. For sure, I'll get there, probably soon. There are quite a few on my bucket list."
n Paul Martin: "There are tons of them. I've been able to be in Europe quite a bit, but I haven't been to Australia or to Japan. I love to travel. I'd have to say No. 1 is probably somewhere still in Europe, like Spain or Italy."
n Mike Rupp: "Probably Australia."
n Brent Johnson: "There are many places, but number one on my list would probably be Venice before it's under water. I'd better get on with it."
n Mark Letestu: "I think I'd like to see Australia. It seems like a cool place, a little different. Nice and warm. It would be interesting to jump in a shark cage and see how it goes."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is a busy man, but he's been able to watch all four episodes of the HBO reality series starring his team and the Washington Capitals.
Good timing on his part? No, he's followed the series through the DVDs the producers have sent him. He has no choice.