PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins had some guests on their just-completed two-game trip to Florida.
It was the annual dads' trip, a tradition that started when Ray Shero came aboard as general manager in 2006.
Shero, himself a second-generation NHLer, borrowed the idea from other teams. The Penguins have come to embrace it.
"It's nice to get to know the families," forward Jordan Staal said. "You come to realize that we're all pretty similar."
The Pirates have an annual trip where wives and girlfriends accompany the team. The kind of overnight travel the Steelers have precludes any kind of family trip.
But hockey teams put a premium on team bonding, and the dads trip is part of that.
"It adds a unique dynamic," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Two months into the season, it's the second family-oriented activity the Penguins have had.
When the schedule finally eased up and the team had four days off earlier this month, management staged a team-building event at Nemacolin Woodlands.
Players, accompanied by their wives or girlfriends, took an overnight trip to the resort so that everyone could get better acquainted.
The event got rave reviews.
"It was a blast," winger Matt Cooke said, to which defenseman Matt Niskanen added, "It was exciting. It was an awesome thing."
Football teams tend to divide between offense and defense. Baseball teams always have social groups united by some shared trait - pitchers tend to hang out together. Spanish-speaking players are usually in their own group.
Hockey has language barriers now that European players are so common, but the nature of the game requires some sense of unity.
Sometimes goaltenders stand alone, but that isn't the case with the Penguins, where Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson blend easily with the other players.
"I think hockey is probably the biggest team sport," Cooke said. "With football, you have offense and defense. In basketball, you pretty much have five guys who play most of the time. With a hockey team you have 20 guys who have to work together. I think you have to build a relationship with everybody on the team."
That was the purpose of the two-day outing.
Players reported there were a variety of activities, including races and a paintball competition.
"We did a lot of cool stuff," Niskanen said. "It was good for us to be together as a group like that in a setting away from the rink. Things like that can really go a long way toward bringing you closer together as a group, and that's a factor in teams. It was good."
The Penguins were probably pretty well bonded before the event. There wasn't a lot of roster turnover in the summer.
But players like James Neal and Niskanen joined the team in a February trade and others, like Joe Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey, had only spent limited time with the Penguins last season.
Steve Sullivan and Steve MacIntyre were new additions this season.
"We're a pretty tight group," winger Craig Adams said.
The players had a chance to get acquainted thanks to the nature of this year's schedule. In the first six weeks of the season, the Penguins made two western trips. That's a lot of time together on airplanes, buses and in hotel dining rooms.
Still, the time at Nemacolin had a different atmosphere.
"Anytime you get away from the rink and spend some time with the guys, you do some things that forces you to work together, it's good for everybody and it's good for the team," Cooke said.
The combo special
The Penguins have had several father and son combinations over the team's 45-year history.
n The first: Wayne and Alex Hicks. Wayne played 15 games in the Penguins' inaugural season, 1967-68. His son Alex appeared in 113 games from 1996-98.
n The most successful: Greg Malone played in 495 games for the Penguins from 1976-83, collecting 143 goals and 364 points. Son Ryan was a member of the Penguins from 2003-08, scoring 87 goals and 169 points in 299 regular season games.
n Different roles: Goalie Gilles Meloche played in 184 games from 1985-88 while his son Eric, a forward, appeared in 61 games from 2001-04.
n Reverse order: Mark Johnson, a member of the Penguins from 1980-82, played in 136 games. His father, Bob Johnson, would later coach the team to its first Stanley Cup in 1990-91.
n Same job: Another Bob Johnson currently has a son on the team. Current backup goalie Brent Johnson is the son of that Bob Johnson, who played 12 games for the Penguins in 1974-75.