PITTSBURGH - When the Pittsburgh Penguins gathered to start training camp last month, they did what all hockey players do.
They swapped stories about what they did on their summer vacation.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had the story that was hard to top. Fleury spent part of his offseason on a 10-day African safari.
"It was a good time," he said.
Fleury and his girlfriend decided on the trip after he'd heard teammate Craig Adams talk about it.
Fleury is an animal lover. Also, when the season ends, he likes to get as far away from hockey as possible to decompress from the stress over a long season.
The Penguins were done after the first round of the playoffs, which gave Fleury a chance to book his tour.
"You get a little adventure out of it," he said.
It was a stark contrast from his previous summer vacation. He spent that one in France and Italy, sampling world class wines and enjoying his first taste of authentic native pizza.
That sounds like the kind of trip his fiance would enjoy more, but Fleury insists she was just as enthusiastic about seeing South Africa as he was.
They visited both the northern and southern regions of the country.
You think safari and jungle, and you automatically think of sweltering temperatures. But that wasn't the case. In fact, the conditions made the Canadians feel right at home.
"Afternoons were all right, but mornings and nights were real cold," Fleury said. "It's winter there because it's the southern hemisphere. I knew it was going to be cold a little bit, but I didn't think it would be that cold. I was a little bit surprised."
The tour delivered what the brochures promised. Fleury was part of a group that would head out with a guide in a Jeep every day to observe the animals in their natural habitat. They would go out twice a day.
"You see the animals in zoos and stuff, but this is different," he said. You're in the wilderness. You see lions and leopards. It was really fun to see."
Sometimes there were grim reminders of how the law of the jungle works, too.
"We saw lions eating a hippo," Fleury said.
To clarify, he just saw the lions feasting on their fallen prey.
"I didn't see them hunting it down or anything," he said. "Then you see the lions lying there with their bellies all full the next day."
The tour group was protected by a driver armed with a shotgun. Fleury also observed leopard cubs feasting on a fallen impala. He has plenty of photographs to document the trip.
The lions were his favorite but, "the elephants are cool, too."
When the trip ended, it was time to head home and start working out for the season.
After a rough start last fall, Fleury had an exceptional season as the offensively-impaired Penguins played with little margin for error.
Because of the team's early exit, Fleury even started his off-season program a bit sooner than usual.
He reported the gym in mid-summer, then started his work on the ice at the usual time, early August.
"I was anxious to get back," he said.
Who knows, maybe after the trip to the jungle, he'll have even more of the eye of the tiger when he plays.
"It was best trip ever," he said.
Question of the week
What was the most interesting thing you did over the summer?
n Craig Adams: "I went to my brother's wedding in Vancouver."
n Pascal Dupuis: "Got my little girl baptized. Went down to Mexico for a week with the whole family."
n Ben Lovejoy: "I went to Costa Rica. My wife and I got married two summers ago. It was later in the summer and we didn't have time to go on a honeymoon because I had to be ready for training camp. We went for a week in Costa Rica and it was a blast. We did a lot of snorkeling, a lot of lying on the beach and we both got pretty sunburned."
n Zbynek Michalek: "Just went on vacation, spent time with the family."
n Paul Martin: "I went to the Cannes Film Festival in France with Sid and [Jordan] Staal after the season."
n Dustin Jeffrey: "I just did a lot of rehab for my knee. I did a few little trips, weekenders, but that was it. I was mostly working to get my knee strong again. It was a big summer for me that way. I took it very seriously."
n Chris Kunitz: "Spent time with my family. We just had a baby in April, so if we weren't going to be in the playoffs, it was nice to spend some time at home."
n Brent Johnson: "I wouldn't say it was the most interesting thing, but it was my favorite thing to do. It was going to our neighborhood pool with my daughter once a week. She's little, so we were just in the mini-pool, but she loved it and that kept me going."
The Penguins had high hopes for forward Eric Tangradi when they acquired him from Anaheim in February of 2009.
At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Tangradi has the size to play a physical game.
But his skating hasn't been up to par, and that's the biggest reason he failed to make the team out of training camp.
The Penguins were hoping to see Tangradi step up this season. He disappointed the organization by not taking more of a leadership role when he was invited to the summer rookie camp.
At the moment, he's seen as a player to add depth rather than a potential top six forward.