On the Penguins: Welcome to the club, rookie

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Hockey, like so many other businesses and organizations, has a hierarchy in which seniority counts.

A lot.

And just as, say, generals don't draw kitchen duty and admirals don't swab decks, veteran NHLers aren't the ones who wait until their teammates fill their plates at team meals, and they're not the ones occasionally expected to perform menial chores for their elders.

Still, today's rookies generally don't endure anything more grievous than getting stuck with the bloated tab for a team night out at a pricey restaurant.

That presumably is far preferable to the days when veterans would welcome a newcomer by shaving him -- occasionally, all of him -- with a razor whose blade had been loosened, just to provide a few mementos of the experience.

And to what went on in the in the early 1980s, when rookies routinely were being given bad, borderline grotesque, haircuts by older teammates. Indeed, it was deemed newsworthy when Mario Lemieux received only a modified one because management didn't want to have his marketing value sabotaged.

Initiation rites, ranging from monstrous or mundane, are a tradition at almost every level of the game.

Winger Tanner Glass recalled that during his junior-hockey days in British Columbia, "you'd pack eight guys in the bus bathroom and spray them with water bottles, stuff like that."

Doesn't sound like much fun, at least for the guys in the bathroom.

"At the time, it was pretty nerve-wracking for a rookie," Glass said. "But I look back on it as a [fond] memory, that's for sure."

Regardless, it seems clear that things are far more tame now, at least in the NHL, which is worth noting in the wake of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal.

For while political correctness and social niceties aren't always a staple in NHL locker rooms, especially after its doors have been closed to outsiders, an informal survey of Penguins players found no one who believes bullying is an issue in their league.

Or, at the very least, on their team.

"There's razzing, there's jawing among teammates, there is even some rookie-initiation stuff," Glass said. "But not bullying."

Defenseman Brooks Orpik cryptically suggested that some things he witnessed when he was much younger might have qualified, but said a natural selection process of sorts dealt with the perpetrators.

"As you get older and more mature, you look back at certain situations where, whether it was you or you were in the locker room, you could have intervened and maybe squashed something a little sooner," Orpik said.

"You get high school kids and some college kids -- I don't know what you want to say, who are nasty to other kids -- but I think a lot of that is [a lack of] maturity.

"As you get older, those types of people usually don't last. Usually, the people who aren't good people get weeded out, for whatever reason, no matter how good of a player you are. "

That doesn't mean an NHL locker room is a bastion of civility.

Balls of rolled-up tape tossed toward waste cans occasionally have their flight path cross that of a slur or insult flying in a different direction.

Defenseman Paul Martin, however, said there are limits. And, perhaps more important, that players make a point of learning what they are for individual teammates.

"There's always the banter that goes back and forth but I think it's one of those things that, as you get to know someone, you realize what you can joke about and what you can't," Martin said.

"The give-and-take, some guys can take it and some can't. That's the feeling-out process."

Being somewhat considerate of teammates' feelings certainly makes business sense, for a team that gets along in its locker room seems more likely to mesh during games, as well.

"I think we're pretty good, especially with the rookies and younger guys," Orpik said. "I think we're actually really welcoming.

"I think we're aware that if you make those guys feel comfortable off the ice, they usually feel comfortable on the ice. At the end of the day, you want to win hockey games, so that's important."

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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