Puck Daddy - NHL

Hockey fans have been begging for HBO to give the NHL the "Hard Knocks" treatment, as that series has transformed the mundane NFL exhibition season into riveting reality television. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, those prayers have been answered -- and puckheads have Sidney Crosby(notes) and Alex Ovechkin(notes) to thank. 

Seth Rorabaugh broke the news Thursday morning that HBO will film a documentary mini-series leading up to, and during, the 2011 Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field on Jan. 1. From the Post-Gazette:

Much like "Hard Knocks," this NHL series will have players wearing microphones on and off the ice and would offer an uncensored look at the Penguins and Capitals leading up to the New Year's Day game. A game between the Penguins and Capitals Dec. 23 in Washington is expected to be one of the main focuses.

Rorabaugh said a formal announcement from the NHL could arrive on Thursday; perhaps not coincidentally, Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL COO John Collins have a conference call scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday "to discuss a special announcement."

Despite some palpable Sid vs. Ovie fatigue amongst hockey fans, this is exactly why you book the Capitals and Penguins in the Classic: To create a pop-culture phenomenon.

The Wrigley-to-Fenway Winter Classic transition was a lateral move; this is a blockbuster, to the point where HBO finds it compelling enough to build sports programming around it. The hype will be astronomical for this game; and with the Winter Classic as the centerpiece for the NHL's next television contract negotiations, hopefully the ratings will match the hype.

Maybe that "Broad Street Bullies" documentary opened HBO's eyes to hockey's potential on pay TV. Hopefully when Rorabaugh writes the series will be "uncensored" it means this series will offer the warts-and-all access that "Hard Knocks" has perfected in covering teams like the New York Jets. The intensity of this rivalry, and the personalities on both sides of it, demand that presentation. The NHL on HBO has been a long-standing dream for us; unfiltered audio from a Caps/Penguins game could be the greatest thing to happen to puckheads since replica jerseys.

(Ken Fang makes a good point, however, on the "Hard Knocks" hysteria front: The show will likely fall under the HBO "24/7" banner, although that's also an unfiltered sports-doc format. It's still just cooler to say "NHL Hard Knocks," right?)

What are you most looking forward to in an uncensored HBO program featuring the Penguins and Capitals? For us, it's a mic'd up, uncensored Matt Cooke(notes) and seeing if Bruce Boudreau can become the next Rex Ryan.

(UPDATE: Official release for "24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS" after the jump.)

From the NHL:

NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2010 -- HBO Sports' groundbreaking "24/7" reality franchise, which has captured 12 Sports Emmy Awards, will join forces with the National Hockey League to take viewers inside one of the NHL's great rivalries, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, for 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC, an innovative four-episode, all-access reality series, it was announced today by Ross Greenburg, president, HBO Sports and John Collins, chief operating officer for the NHL.
           
The HBO Sports presentation debuts in prime time WEDNESDAY, DEC. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), with an immediate encore at 11:00 p.m., and follows the two clubs simultaneously, chronicling their highs and lows each week.  The teams will meet in a Dec. 23 regular-season matchup on the Capitals' home ice, leading into episode three of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS, as the build-up intensifies for the Jan. 1 showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
           
Noted Greenburg, "Taking our reality series ‘24/7' into the world of the National Hockey League is a perfect fit.  The ‘24/7' franchise is fashioned on larger-than-life personalities, engaging storylines, and unrestricted access. With Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin leading the Capitals, we have all the ingredients for a dynamic show that will take viewers deep inside professional hockey and set the stage for the Winter Classic."
           
Said Collins, "Teaming up with the 12-time Emmy Award-winning and much acclaimed HBO ‘24/7' series gives us an incredible opportunity to bring our fans even deeper inside two model hockey organizations during the regular season as we lead into the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  In just three short years, the Winter Classic has become so well established on the national sports calendar it's truly a New Year's Day tradition.  Uniting HBO's amazing reality series with one of sport's greatest rivalries in an outdoor setting in front of 65,000 raucous fans will make this Winter Classic the most anticipated one yet."
           
Ensuing episodes of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC debut on subsequent Wednesdays -- Dec. 22 and 29 and Jan. 5 -- at 10:00 p.m., with an immediate encore play at 11:00 p.m. The Jan. 5 series finale debuts four days after the Classic, with cameras tracking all the drama and excitement surrounding the Capitals and Penguins on game day.  All four episodes will have multiple replay dates on HBO, and the series will also be available on HBO On Demand.
           
The series will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews of coaches, players and front-office personnel, as the Caps and Penguins battle through their December schedules, meeting twice in one week, including the first-ever NHL game at Heinz Field.
            

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