EPIX Road To NHL Winter Classic Ep. 4 (Puck Daddy Review)

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In the four Winter Classic series the NHL has produced on HBO and EPIX, you can probably count on one hand the number of players that have become breakout stars.

Like Ilya Bryzgalov, for example. And ... and, uh ...

OK, maybe one finger.

In contrast, the coaches for each series have been the real stars. Bruce Boudreau’s Blutarsky vs. Dan Bylsma’s teacher’s pet. Peter Laviolette’s simmering intensity vs. John Tortorella’s surprisingly soft edges. Mike Babcock’s white board vs. Randy Carlyle’s toaster.

Series 4, which ended on Tuesday night, is no exception. The finale featured much of the same dynamic we’ve seen throughout: Joel Quenneville’s win-obsessed jokester, who fills the air with obscenities like rice fills the air on a wedding day; vs. Barry Trotz, the introspective, heartfelt family man who brings a kindly humor to counterbalance Quenneville’s Sam Kinison routine.

(Quenneville was also the star of Ep. 3, which sadly we didn’t recap due to the Winter Classic time crunch. Suffice it to say, the “kissing the snow monkey” scene was amazing. Overall, a B-plus episode. Liked the Ovechkin stuff, too.)

The finale had some great game coverage, a few cute moments and some behind the scenes stuff that validates the existence of this television franchise. Ultimately, it suffered from the same things the Winter Classic suffered from as a TV event: a lack of natural rivalry, a lack of stakes, weather that wasn’t challenging enough and a venue that lacked character.

Some narrative threads connecting the rest of the series to this final episode – Trotz and his son, for example – pay off big, while others just dangle out there. (Why do the Blackhawks care about this game again?)

We’ll cover the winners and losers from this series soon; but now, here’s Episode 4:


Say, did you know Jonathan Toews is a member of the I’ve Won Everything There Is To Win club?


Sometimes this show gets lucky, and it did with the eerie symmetry between the Blackhawks’ last game before the Classic vs. Nashville and the Capitals’ last game before the Classic vs. the Islanders. Both teams playing tough division rivals. Both teams getting down early. Both teams rallying. Both coaches screaming and yelling and tossing F-bombs like they’re getting paid by the expletive. Especially in Quenneville’s case.

It did what this series didn’t do enough of, which was draw a contrast between the teams’ styles, approaches and reactions. It’s also really, really great game coverage, which is still the best thing this series does.

Next we see the Blackhawks humanized through young players at their open practice in Chicago. Patrick Sharp gets them to chant “SHARPIE!” because apparently no one else would ever feed his ego outside of everyone.

Troy Brouwer drives all the way out to Dulles Airport to pick up his mom and dad, and we learn his father had a stroke that’s prevented him from attending his son’s games. “It’s every dad’s dream, eh?” he says about seeing his son play, which is adorable.

The team arrive at Nationals Park, and we see them in awe of the ball team’s facilities. Joel Ward immediately claims a leather recliner as his own, and we want to reach through the screen and high-five him.

The Capitals take the ice for Winter Classic practice, and the sun has basically blinded them, setting us up for GlareGate later in the show. (Surprisingly, Karl Alzner’s history-making sunglasses don’t get much attention.)

FAMILY SKATE! Dads kissing babies! Boyfriends and/or husbands skating with girlfriends! Julianne Hough sighting!

We also see Barry Trotz having a touching family moment with his son Nolan, skating with his dad on the Winter Classic rink. We get this narration:

“There are some things hockey can give you that have nothing to do with wins and losses. Reminders of why all the rest of it is worthwhile. Trips around the rink you wouldn’t even trade for a Stanley Cup…”

Uh … yeaaaaaahhh … would love to take a poll of the Capitals’ room on that one. Because we're pretty sure they'd sell 90% of their internal organs to win a Cup.

The Blackhawks take the ice with the Wounded Warriors, which was a really awesome moment (and some made their way to the dressing room after the game, too). Their family and friends take a turn on the ice, and we see Patrick Kane’s girlfriend for, like, the second time on the series. We also meet his dad. He clearly got his shot from his mom.

Back at the Michael Latta/Tom Wilson Bro Hang, their bros are all splayed out on the sleeper sofa after a New Year's Eve of reading Jane Austin and drinking virgin daiquiris.

They drive to the ballpark in Navy Yard in DC. Alex Ovechkin is seen “arriving by foot” at the stadium, which is weird, because they show him walking in Arlington, Virginia.

(The empty locker for Clint Reif is shown, which is eerie given the news that hit earlier the day this premiered.)

Here’s perhaps my favorite thing the show’s done all series: Show us how, exactly, the players went from the dressing rooms all the way over to the mini-reflecting pool half a stadium away. Hint: It was goofy.


The decision to play the game was a group call, with the NHL, NHLPA and the teams deciding that glare wasn’t an issue.

Or, judging from this incredible clip bringing us into warmups, it was an issue, but the players decided to go ahead anyway. Check out how they decided to play the Classic on time:


The Winter Classic itself is as we remember it: an intense, penalty-filled game in which the animosity grew between the teams as the game grew later. The camera work here is fantastic – oh man, those referee helmet cams – but the audio is better, especially in the reactions from Quenneville and Ovechkin when Ovechkin got a few chances in the second period.

The part I wanted to see, and the show didn’t disappoint, was the controversial Toews hooking call that gave the Capitals their game-winning power play. Toews gets as emotional and indignant as we’ve seen him, literally stewing in the penalty box, calling it a “horse bleep call.” It’s great.

With Toews in the box, Troy Brouwer scores the game-winner and the Capitals win the Winter Classic. (We don’t see that moment we might expect to see with his dad after the game, but we know he’s there watching.) Trotz and Quenneville have an adorable moment in the handshakes in which Trotz claims Q has the lead in F-bombs for the series, Q denies it ... and then proceeds to drop, like, 10 more.

Trotz and the Capitals coaches celebrate with 40s of Old English. Probably from Boudreau’s old stash.

And now we’re into the final montage. There’s no such thing as “just another game.” They hate losing, love winning. They never stop working, fighting.

Sunset. Birds flying. And scene.


We lost count at 2 billion.




That captains’ meeting before deciding to play the game on time was pretty terrific.


Marian Hossa, Stan Bowman, Brian McLellan, Billy Idol, Lee Greenwood.


1. Barry Trotz. From the dad stuff to the postgame 40s, the heart and soul of this series.

2. Jonathan Toews. Mischievous mocking of Troy Brouwer to the anger over the hooking call, the most memorable player in the episode.

3. Gary Bettman’s Beard. That thing’s going to hit Radko Gudas territory by April.