When the NHL first announced that the Toronto Maple Leafs would face the Detroit Red Wings in the (then 2013) Winter Classic, I was incredibly excited. Not because it was an outdoor game, not because I in any way liked the idea of the Leafs having to play more games than usual against the Red Wings, and not even because it’ll be the highest attended NHL game ever. Okay, that last bit is pretty cool. But no, my main excitement came from the two teams being on HBO 24/7, giving an uncensored, behind the scenes look at the two respective teams.
It may be a little early to write off all four episodes, but so far, I’m not a fan of what I’m seeing. With that said, here’s a full rundown:
First and foremost, the Detroit Red Wings are boring. Yes, Daniel Alfredsson left Ottawa and came here. He has a wife and kids. They like hockey too, I’m so surprised. Mike Babcock walks into his dressing room and talks like a straight forward professional, fun. Their younger players go out to dinner and decide it’s the right time give each other scouting reports on veteran teammate Pavel Datsyuk. Yawn. But hey, they’ve decided to add a quirky thing to the locker room, where a teammate plays random compliments with the starting lineup!
This isn’t even a "it’s the other team, who cares" bias. The Wings are just bland. I suppose that’s what makes them so good; a group of focused guys who live structured lives and play structured hockey, wanting to follow in the face of tradition because they know the results. But if this hour was any indication, it makes for terrible television. The Detroit Red Wings are literally the quiet unassuming kid in the back of the class room who gets straight A’s, goes home, studies, sleeps, and repeats. They are the vanilla ice cream of hockey teams, enjoyable, popular, but stupendously safe. If I spend any more time trying to make analogies, it would require spending more time attempting to be interesting than the Detroit Red Wings did in this episode.
Finally, we get to the Leafs. Introduction included, the first two or three minutes of Leafs-related talk is basically a reminder of the Leafs’ cup drought, and the Game 7 collapse against Boston. I mean, they’re educating non-fans who may be watching, and this week involved a game against the Bruins, but to the majority of people watching, they probably could have substituted a guy literally beating a dead horse in and saved some production costs.
I will say though, the fact that Jonathan Bernier is the one to say "fuck those guys" in preparation for the Boston game is pretty hilarious. Fast forward a few seconds.
David Clarkson appears on our screen for the first time. Drinking a Red Bull. Showing tattoos, in the midst of failing to meet his expectations. It’s okay though, his fans love him, mostly because of where he was bor-OH MY GOD, DAVID CLARKSON IS BRETT LAWRIE.
We’ll give him some credit though – he seems to be a much more likable person than Lawrie, as he further proves throughout the episode as we’re introduced to his family. On a purely personal standpoint, he’s someone you want to root for. He’s just been largely ineffective. Moving on, or in fact, moving back.
Before we got into the locker room, the focus was on Dion Phaneuf. They spend a minute and a half watching him get dressed, and give him another minute to spew out cliches about wanting to be a player when he grew up. What I got out of it was that he lives outside of the downtown core (passing De La Salle College at Avenue and St. Clair), and takes suiting up on game night very, very seriously:
Back into the room, Randy Carlyle gives a simple speech, drops the second F-bomb of the night, and the Boston game begins. The 4-1 collapse gets a heavy focus from the HBO crew, as Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, and James Reimer all give their perspectives.
Is James Reimer stuck on perma-happy? This man is talking about the worst performance-based moment of his hockey career, and THAT’s the face he has on? I’m starting to believe his white blood cells have been replaced with Prozac.
Quick review of this picture:
- Nazem Kadri looks like the dude who is just trying to look busy instead of actually doing something
- Dion Phaneuf’s main benefit as a captain appears to be getting the bike with the fancy electronics
- Phil Kessel is getting a telekinetic message from Tyler Bozak, presumably telling him to take the garbage out when he gets home
- Fraser McLaren thinks that bicycles are for lett-wing pinkos and as such opted for the treadmill
The Red Wings are back on. *hits fast forward*
"Hey, he’s really pretty, likes to talk, and is pretty good. We just need a story arc for him. Like an inj-"
"That can be arranged"
"Hey, we don’t want to cause physical harm to your playe-"
"Just trust us on this one."
The dude on the left has been named the winner of the 2013 "Person I’m Most Jealous Of" award by the Tumblr.com community. The runner up being skating guru Barb Underhill:
With that said, we all knew that Lupul would be a major focus of this show. With quirky personalities like Mikhail Grabovski, Ben Scrivens, and Leo Komarov all on other teams this season (probably the biggest shame of the 2013 lockout), Lupul is an obvious go-to. I’m hoping Jerry D’Amigo stays up long enough to get some screen time; his call-up story line combined with his personality might make this thing almost as interesting as other years have been.
Because this is the biggest gripe I have with this year. The Leafs are more interesting than Detroit, but both teams are significantly more boring than any of the four teams to have done it prior. I understand that media relations teams have had three years to get a grasp of what exactly HBO is looking for, and as such, everything sounds like a media-scrum. The worst of it comes when the two Daves, Nonis and Poulin, have a discussion about the hit.
You’d think we were about to get a serious conversation between the two, a la Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma when deciding Dustin Jeffrey’s fate in the 2010/11 edition, but instead we got the two playing reporter vs. exec, press conference style. Just because words were used to form a sentence doesn’t necessarily mean anything was said, as these two showed.
Though hey, you can see Nonis’ other tabs up on his iPad. Specifically, he’s looking for an Artesian Well for his house in New Hampshire (where his wife and son live), where he can buy Taste Nirvana coconut water, and where the nearest whole foods is (answer: Yorkville, probably).
Phaneuf’s reaction to his suspension is the closest we get to natural out of him and even then, it’s super tame. Exact quote: "I got two games, so, how do you think I feel? …Not very good."
My main point is, this is becoming less of a behind the scenes look at how hockey players operate, and more like a promotional video to lure free agents who look for "class" and "professionalism" and have apparently played in the NHL but never have been in a locker room. Hopefully it’s first week jitters, but these guys need to take it less seriously. EIther that, or bring in some guys who can.
Close enough. The Leafs could even keep Reimer and Bernier going; just put Sparksy on for practices and start an HBO flow-cam in the press box. Or have his Twitter running in a ticker on the bottom. I don’t know. Something. ANYTHING. At this rate, we’re going to have to rely on Randy Carlyle’s eating habits to bring us enterta-FOR THE LOVE OF
Randy Carlyle’s disdain for Almond Butter and his bread getting stuck in the toaster becomes one of the highlights of the episode. Yep. To be fair, he has fun with it and it actually makes you crack a smile. Plus, having something he’s the boss of being stuck in a zone he’d prefer it to not spend much time of seems like a microcasm of the season.
DETROIT! *fast forward* Hey, Lupul’s back!
And extra photogenic, without the need for a vest or bowtie. I went there, Dion. Anyway, we’re now into the game against Los Angeles, and if you all remember, Lupul ends up fighting Slava Voynov:
The conversation is pretty simple, as you’d imagine for two guys with different primary languages.
Lupul: "You motherfucker.. piece of shit"
Voynov: "You fucking shut the fuck up"
Lupul: "You fucking piece of shit, keep your fucking stick down"
Or, as Rogers Sportsnet, who has the rights to 24/7 in Canada probably put it:
God bless whatever you preferred method of watching the HBO version is. Even if this show is becoming PR-speak, I’d still like the eight curse words used over the course of the hour to be audible.
The period ends and Carlyle stresses the importance of rebounds, before telling everybody to feed the fucking chickens (???) and walking off. The Leafs end up losing, Randy commends them on their efforts, and we get the closing monologue Dion Phaneuf stares somberly at his wardrobe.
And ruins his run of nice clothing by following up with the ugliest New York Yankees cap I have ever seen.
GREY AND YELLOW. NEW YORK YANKEES. FLAT BRIM. STICKER STILL ON. Screw the numbers, put him on waivers.
The Red Wings are vanilla ice cream. The Leafs are slightly better, but still pretty boring. Hopefully next week is less "PR talk with fuck inserted every four minutes at random" and more actual personality. Sportsnet is the [expletives]. Phil Kessel is a bubble hockey god (somehow I couldn’t mix that scene in). Free Garret Sparks.
Oh, and, you know, the Blues blowout and Hawks victory should at least make things interesting. Fingers crossed.