SUN Hockey Pool

Players be warmed

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- From ice-friendly conditions to flip-flops and shorts all in a matter of minutes, playing professional hockey in Florida isn't as ideal an environment as it seems.

The beach may be close at hand and life away from the rink can be sweet, but that's not always the best situation for a young player -- especially one making his way over from Europe and immersing himself into the NHL for the first time.

"Probably for me because I came over as a rookie and started playing in Florida, it was the toughest thing to adjust over there," said Calgary Flames winger Kristian Huselius, who spent parts of four seasons with the Panthers before a trade brought him to the more traditional hockey market of Calgary in 2005-06.

"All of a sudden, you're playing in the NHL and you have this weather. It's a nice place to live. It's tough to really focus -- not focus but understand that you're playing hockey in the NHL. It just doesn't feel that way compared to Calgary.

"A hockey market, you breathe hockey every day. Florida, you practise hard but then after that it's nothing. You can't watch any hockey on TV, you don't hear anything, you don't read anything in the paper. It's just nothing. That's kind of a tough situation down there."

Huselius has come to appreciate the sometimes-overwhelming attention the game receives up north. So does his former Panthers teammate Marcus Nilson, who also dons the Flaming C these days.

"The Panthers are probably on the 12th page of the Miami Herald, after high school basketball. There's not much attention -- which kind of sucks sometimes," said Nilson, who admits not having to re-live your mistakes in print and on the airwaves can also be a bonus at times.

"It's nice that you don't get recognized and stuff, but you still want to see your team get a little more attention. "

That makes accountability a more difficult thing to teach to a young team. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the only group from Miami to reach the Stanley Cup final was loaded with veterans who had already learned responsibility.

The lack of attention may delay development more than the hospitable environment, which said Flames head coach Mike Keenan actually believes can be energizing.

"Maybe the process takes a little bit longer because of that (lack of scrutiny)," said Keenan. "In Calgary, you've really got the accountability built in with the support of the city -- as well as the team itself. (In Florida), it's not as difficult because you're obscure, nobody knows who you are, and you disappear."

And disappearing on the coast is as close to a literal as it gets.

"It's kind of nice when you get out of the rink," said Nilson. "You have flip-flops and shorts every day."


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