EPIX NHL Road To The Winter Classic: Puck Daddy's viewing guide to Caps, Blackhawks

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Josh Cooper
Washington Capitals hockey captain Alex Ovechkin, center, flanked by teammates Braden Holtby, left, and Nicklas Backstrom, of Sweden, right, pose for a photo wearing the teams uniform for the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic hockey game, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, during an unveiling at Nationals Park in Washington. The Capitals will Play the Chicago Blackhawks in the game that will be played New Years Day. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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You ever want to see Jonathan Toews may or may not get concussed? Ever want to see Alex Ovechkin do – well, whatever Ovechkin does behind the scenes. Then get ready!

“EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic” starts Tuesday evening … with little fanfare or buzz in comparison to the NHL’s previous ventures with HBO’s 24/7 series.

Maybe that is because EPIX is a smaller subscriber-based channel that is in 50 million households, and doesn’t quite carry the panache of HBO. The league seems to realize this, so it’s streaming the series on its website. 

Maybe we’ve seen enough of these-style shows, which have gone on since the 2011 Winter Classic between Pittsburgh and Washington.

Or maybe it’s the fact that this is the least ‘needle moving’ Winter Classic ever. Two teams between Chicago and Washington, with zero history, in a baseball stadium (Nationals Park) that has less lineage than the teams’ rivalry.

The game should have been held in RFK Stadium – though the NHL clearly used the Magneto excuse.

Regardless, these shows still offer a supposedly unfiltered view of the game in preparation for the Jan. 1 contest.

“I think the thing that has been really good is that they … let us look at the episodes before they get aired,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “So with that in mind, I think we have … you feel a lot more comfortable just being yourself, because you can help them edit it.”

Hmm, so much for that whole unfiltered thing. It should still be a fun watch. Even though the NHL Network’s “Oil Change” felt like it was free advertising for the Oilers, it still gave some perspective on the team. This should be no different.

Here are a few elements in the series to look for and maybe enjoy … or not.

Top Three Breakout Stars

1. Mitch Korn, Washington Capitals goaltending coach

Korn has guided the likes of Dominik Hasek, Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne to solid NHL careers. He is known for his short physique and quirky techniques, which include white pucks and a shot screen board. There’s also a fun, everyman quality to Korn. For example, Trotz said scenes with Korn will be like a “Seinfeld episode.”

 2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks center

Toews is often dubbed as ‘Captain Serious’ the guy who eats, breathes and lives hockey. But does he have a life outside of the game? Hopefully EPIX will shed some light on Toews, beyond the few drunken photos we have of him from the 2013 Stanley Cup celebration.

 3. Patrick Kane’s girlfriend

The Blackhawks winger apparently is tied down … sorry ladies. While we all know about Kane’s drunken escapades in Madison, Wisc. during the 2012 offseason, he is supposedly a changed man! It would be fantastic to get a sense of Kane’s off-ice regimen, who he is and whether he actually has indeed matured from his viral hey day. His relationship likely plays a major role in this evolution. 

Top Three Musical Montages We Want To See

1. Patrick Sharp getting dressed for game day.

Look, EPIX: You have cameras and you have access and you have millions of viewers who will gladly subscribe to your network should you do this one obligatory thing.

2. The Capitals scoring all the power play goals.

We’re thinking something themed to “You’re The Best” from “The Karate Kid.”

3. The Blackhawks’ holiday party.

No disrespect to DC, but Chicago plus John McDonaugh’s grandiose nature plus the Blackhawks’ appetites and personalities equals the Christmas blast to end all Christmas blasts.

Top Three “24/7” Tropes We Hope Are Retired

1. The visit to the community rink.

Yes, we get it, the rich white men who own the teams are very charitable. Now show us another coach yelling profanities please.

2. The staged dinner conversation. 

We’re still recovering from that meal the Red Wing had last season that came off about as naturally as a Kardashian screaming match on E! More reality, please.

3. The kids on the pond who grow up to be NHL players. 

Please don’t put us into a sugar coma before the Winter Classic’s opening montage does.

Top Three Events (or future events) during filming

1. The mumps

The Blackhawks and Capitals all haven’t reportedly been infected. But that doesn’t mean one won’t occur before filming wraps up. Also, did both teams go through a vaccination process with their players? If so, how did they do it, and did some opt out? We would love to get a further sense on how the league’s ‘it’ virus is being handled.

2. Toews’ leaving a Dec. 11 game against the Bruins after hitting his head on the boards

How did the Blackhawks handle protocol with Toews, who clearly suffered some sort of head and neck injury and then returned briefly. The eyeball test shows that Chicago should have pulled Toews from the game immediately. But hopefully we’ll see some other sort of process – ‘hopefully’ for his sake and the team’s sake.

3. The Winter Classic

It’s cliché to list this in our top three events because it is the marquee game. But you can’t deny the appeal of the hockey universe being honed in on one place one day out of the year. This may not be a rivalry, and Nationals Park is also lame. The weather may be 52 degrees and raining at face off … did that ever happen before? Still, this is the big event of the year, or it’s supposed to be. If the league hits, we’ll want to know why. If it whiffs, hopefully we’ll get a sense on that as well.

Top Three Things to Loathe about filming at Nationals Park:

1. There's nothing iconic about it.

For a game that's seen Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and the Big House, this stadium has all the storied history and gravitas as the one in Philadelphia whose name escapes us at this time. Something something Bank maybe?

2. It's not RFK Stadium.

Seriously, there's one stadium in DC where this thing should have been held, and it's that temple of football and futbol. Yes, it's falling apart and no it doesn't have the bells and whistles. But at least it's real DC, and not the stadium equivalent of a cookie-cutter condo development.

3. Putting the game in Nationals Park will somehow further injure Stephen Strasburg's arm.

We think.

Top Three Players We’re Rooting For To Kill It

1. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals 

Goalies are weirdos to begin with, but Holtby has a ton of personality, appears to be slowly morphing in some Hippie Christ and loves snuggling dogs.

2. Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks 

This should be your prototypical “goofy dude that’s always bleeding” player, as seen here.

3. Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks

If we can get one ‘Steeger rap to sum up the events of each episode, that would be epic, EPIX. 

Additional contribition by Greg Wyshynski