PITTSBURGH - Playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins requires skill, character and dedication.
A snow shovel and good overcoat help, too.
Winter is finally winding down in western Pennsylvania, but it's been brutal at times, which always affects hockey players.
Even when it snows and the roads are icy, games and practices go on. That's just a fact of life for players on teams in the cities where winter is a factor.
But the NHL has expanded and relocated into warm weather climates, where the biggest issue is finding a house with an adequate air conditioning system.
Prior to signing with the Penguins as a free agent last summer, defenseman Zbynek Michalek had spent his entire NHL career with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes would obviously deal with winter weather on road trips, but they never worried about coming home and digging their cars out of snow.
"You put on a t-shirt and shorts and drive to practice," Michalek said.
The NHL made its first foray into the sun with the 1967 expansion that doubled the size of the league, creating the Penguins and five other teams.
The Los Angeles Kings were established in a league that had previously had no teams further west or south than Chicago.
There were concerns that players, accustomed to cold weather, would overdo the fun and sun and lose their focus on hockey.
Bob Berry, who coached the Penguins from 1984-87, played his first full NHL season for the Kings in 1970-71.
He recalled driving to a teammate's home for Christmas dinner.
"It was culture shock," Berry said. "It was 75 degrees, the sun is shining and you hear Christmas music on the radio."
That pretty well jolted someone like Berry, who had grown up in Montreal and played most of his hockey in Canada.
Berry later became the Kings' coach and immediately instituted a rule: Any player with a tan was fined.
That was his way of making sure the players didn't spend too much time at the beach and let their minds wander from hockey.
Tony Granato, the Penguins' Chicago-born assistant coach, had no problem keeping his focus when the New York Rangers traded him to Los Angeles in 1990.
"I knew I was going to play on the same team with Wayne Gretzky," Granato said. "So I didn't care where I was playing or what kind of climate there was."
Los Angeles was a lone outpost in 1967. The NHL has expanded several times and relocated some franchises, so playing in a warm weather city isn't as unusual as it once was.
There are more franchises in places like Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Florida, Dallas and Atlanta than in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
With players frequently on the move, there probably isn't the novelty there once was for a warm Christmas.
"I think once you're in the rink and around your teammates, it doesn't matter much what's going on outside," Granato said. "I think it's an advantage if you use it to relax away from the game. It's a distraction if you use it differently.
"It's up to the professional and how much character you have as a player. Where you play, how much travel you do, what's it like outside shouldn't matter that much."
The Anaheim Might Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. The Tampa Bay Lightning were champions two years earlier.
Even the Kings team Granato played for in 1992-93 reached the Cup final.
"It was a great environment," Granato said. "The fans were great and supported our team. Obviously Wayne was a big part of that, but it was a fun place to play."
The players' parking lot at Consol Energy Center is filled with four-wheel drive vehicles designed to get through all kinds of weather conditions.
That's something players in sunny places don't have to worry about. They have other challenges. When the Penguins traded Ryan Whitney to Anaheim in 2009, what was one of his first thoughts?
"I have to buy some shorts," Whitney said.
Question of the week
What is the coldest place you've ever been?
n Matt Cooke: "Probably Helsinki, Finland in the middle of January for the world juniors."
n Paul Martin: "Minnesota is right up there. Alaska in winter is pretty chilly. But in Moscow it was cold. We were 18 or 19 and we were there in the dead of winter. That was no picnic. It was pretty cold."
n Mike Rupp: "St. Sault Marie was pretty cold."
n Max Talbot: "Probably Baie-Comeau, up in North Quebec when I was playing in junior."
n Mark Letestu: "When I was a first grader, six or seven years old, Dad moved us up to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. We lived there for a year."
From what I remember it was pretty cold."
-Brent Johnson: "One time I got caught in Edmonton where I didn't have an overcoat, just my suit jacket. My goaltending partner, Olie Kolzig and I tried to catch a cab. We missed the bus, and our overcoats were on the bus. That was the worst mistake I ever made. There were no cabs. Then being in Owen Sound (Ontario) for three years in junior. It was pretty much cold from November on."
-Ben Lovejoy: "I played a tournament at the University of Minnesota right after Christmas and I remember that being freezing cold."
-Brooks Orpik: "World juniors in Umea, Sweden. I think it's a half hour south of the North Pole. We were there at Christmas time and I think they only get three or four hours of daylight then. It was just absolutely freezing."
SUBHEAD: Staying put
The Penguins didn't have to think long or hard about coach Dan Bylsma's contract extension.
His .649 winning percentage and Stanley Cup title earned him three more years.
But given the nature of the way hockey teams run through coaches, it's still not a sure thing that he'll be around for the duration of that contract.
The Penguins are still paying Michel Therrien this season.