PITTSBURGH - Hockey players are packing another piece of equipment these days: An iPad.
As coaching gets more advanced and detailed, so does the delivery system for the information players are given by the staff.
To that end, the use of computers is becoming more prevalent.
Last week, the Penguins had five days between games. Assistant coach Todd Reirden, who handles the defensemen, sent several of his players video and other information via their digital tablets.
"We don't send all players home with an iPad, but given a specific opponent with days off in between, it's something we've done with more than one guy this week," Reirden said.
The Penguins also have an iPad on the bench for games.
It was recently reported that the NFL's Baltimore Ravens have something they're calling a "virtual playbook."
The coaching staff assembles information, then distributes it to players electronically.
Players, who are accustomed to using computers and digital tablets for other tasks, now have their homework on the same system.
They can watch "film" while they're on an airplane, in a hotel room or having lunch.
"Every day there's more and more technology that becomes part of our game," Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato said. You're seeing more video, you're seeing more breakdowns, more structured play because of the technology. I think there will be a point where a team's game plans and systems will be distributed that way."
Of course, hockey isn't as structured as football.
As Reirden said, seemingly with a trace of regret, "We're never going to be football, where there's that stoppage in play and set plays."
But, he added, "There are areas where we can be predictable in our room and unpredictable for the opponent. I think that's something we can have success with."
There's more structure to hockey than some may realize. The players are still at the mercy of whatever bounces the puck takes, but players have specific assignments and responsibilities.
"We have a plan and everyone has roles within those plans that they should be able to execute," Reirden said. "We strive toward having everyone on the same page."
That's the goal at every level of the organization. The Penguins' minor league affiliate at Wilkes Barre plays the same system the Penguins use in the NHL.
When a player is called up from the minors, he knows what to do because the system is the same.
This kind of formal structure first made inroads in the late 1970s and started to become more prevalent in the '80s. Video of games was a big component.
"Roger Neilson was the first coach I had who brought that in," Granato said. "It was a process that was long. You couldn't cut tapes, so you'd have to rewind and fast forward the tape. A 15-minute meeting, you'd get two minutes of information out of it."
The late Neilson was nicknamed "Captain Video" because his methods were seen as unusual.
Within a short time, though, most teams adopted a similar approach.
They started with clumsy VHS tapes. Now, the video staff can use computers to give coaches specific parts of games in progress that they can put on the screen for the players between periods.
Instead of telling them about something an opponent is doing, the coaches can show it.
The goal is to strike a balance - to have structure without stifling creativity.
When the late Herb Brooks took over as Penguins coach in 1999, he mocked predecessor Kevin Constantine's rigid commitment to order.
Brooks stiffened his arms and legs and walked like a robot to illustrate how Constantine's methods had shackled players.
"In a way, we have to be careful because you don't want to program a player who has tremendous skill and instincts," Granato said. "You want to give him the ability to read the play and have his natural instincts make the right decision. You have to be a little bit careful, but certainly for positioning and for systems, the technology has had a big impact on our game."
Now the players know that iPads aren't just for watching movies and listening to music on long flights.
Granato said those who initially resisted the technology have been left behind.
"A lot of guys were like, 'what the heck is this, we just go out and play,'" he said. "But let's face it. You can always improve and find ways to have a better plan."
Multiple choices with.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy:
-Vacation: Beach, mountains or city? "What time of year? Summer? The mountains. I have a lake house and I don't want to go anywhere else. My wife makes me travel, and all I want to do is go home there."
-Vehicle: Sports car, SUV or pickup truck? "Sports car, but I don't drive one."
-Dinner: Steak, sushi or pasta? "Steak."
-Movies: Funny, dramatic or scary? "Not scary. I want to be entertained. I don't need award-winning, just entertain me."
-Football: College, pro or none? "Pro football. The Patriots."
-Day off in the summer: Golf, tennis or swimming? "Swimming."
Last year, the Penguins and Washington Capitals were the stars of HBO's "24/7" series leading up to the Winter Classic.
The teams adjusted to the constant presence of TV cameras as the shows offered a behind-the-scenes look.
This year, the Penguins are just viewers since the Winter Classic featured the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
"But it was some of the same people," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "Max (Talbot) and Mike Rupp."
Indeed, Talbot's move to the Flyers and Rupp's switch to the Rangers brought them a second year of "24/7" scrutiny.
Count Fleury among those who is still an interested viewer.
"I think it's cool to see other teams and how they work things, how it is off the ice with them," he said.