On Saturday night, HBO presents the third edition of “24/7: The Road To The NHL Winter Classic.”
Series 1 featured the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Series 2 featured the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Both series had many similar themes and narrative, building up to the League’s signature outdoor game; although Series 2 did make the bold decision to introduce a wacky neighbor to the format named Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings star in the latest edition, beginning this Saturday, Dec. 14, on HBO at 10 p.m. ET. It airs at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario and Pacific on Sunday in Canada.
What to expect? What to hope? What to dream about for this new season? Here are 24 things we’d like to see, or feel we will see, in “HBO 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic.”
1. Hockeytown Vs. The Centre Of The Hockey Universe
One assumes HBO will latch onto the Detroit narrative here, the whole “Red Wings shouldering the load for a city that needs its heroes” narrative that we hear whenever a team in Detroit excels. But there is a fun juxtaposition here between Hockeytown USA and the Centre of the Hockey Universe in Toronto, from the media to the fans, who obviously will play a large role in filling 115,000 seats at the Winter Classic.
2. Randy Carlyle Is The New Boudreau
The man who replaced Carlyle in Anaheim is, of course, the gold standard for coaches on “24/7”. Bruce Boudreau’s saucy mouth – and the sauce on his mouth – made him a star in the first season. Carlyle has a wicked sense of humor and one expects to see the same kind of flustered intensity from him in the locker room as the Leafs struggle. (But if you think he’s challenging Boudreau’s profanity records … well, he might. But our money is still on Mikael Samuelsson for curses per second of air time.)
3. Mike Babcock Will Become a Star
Now, Babcock on the other hand will be a star. No question. He’s going to be equal parts of your favorite varsity coach, a hockey philosopher and an awkward goofball. Watch this, and tell us that’s not already the vibe:
4. Sadly, Nazem Kadri Will Disappoint
Originally our choice for “guy who will say the dumbest thing,” Kadri has admitted to being guarded in his approach to “24/7” so as not to rock the boat. How … disappointing for all of us. C’mon, kid, just give us one segment of foot-in-mouth disease.
5. The Goaltending Duel In Toronto
One imagines that James Reimer’s plight is going to be a focal point of “24/7”, from the lack of confidence the organization had in him as a primary starter to the competition with Jonathan Bernier to the roughly 10,000 shots he’s faced this season. He’s a likeable personality, and an easily sympathetic character. Also, HBO is known to feature a family member or two, so, uh, welcome to Hollywood April Reimer. (Nice work, Sherminator.)
6. The Pressures Of Jimmy Howard Make Good Drama
Howard is one of the more personable Red Wings. He’s also a player that’s had his struggles this season and has faced enormous pressure to secure the third goaltending spot for the U.S. team in Sochi.
7. Leafs Struggles Make Good Drama
Since Nov. 25, the Leafs are 2-6-2 and have fallen 11 points off the division lead and three points behind the Red Wings. Remember how great the first season of “24/7” was when we went inside the Capitals’ room during their free fall? Same thing applies here.
8. Joffrey Lupul Will Have More HBO Air Time Than NHL Ice Time This Season
Some boys grow up skating on the pond, dreaming of hockey glory. Others grow up skating on the pond, hoping one day to become the Vincent Chase of the NHL on HBO.
9. David Clarkson, Matinee Idol
Oh, forget it. Just turn the camera on and watch him go. Too bad he’s not easy on the eyes, or plays in a way that generates highlights, or has a controversial story angle about his contract and offensive output …
10. Please Don’t Make Pavel Datsyuk The New Bryzgalov
One of the most highly anticipated aspects of this “24/7” is the attention Pavel Datsyuk should receive, both as a wizard on the ice and as an insightful, charismatic character off the ice. How will his deadpan humor astute observations translate to HBO? Here’s hoping they aren’t turned into the loopy comic relief of Ilya Bryzgalov, just because someone with a funny accent is espousing them. Then again, we doubt Datsyuk will spend much time comparing the virtues of beautiful women and Siberian huskies.
11. Henrik Zetterberg Will Come Off As The Better Captain
Zetterberg is going to be put over by everyone on this show as a great leader worthy of joining the pantheon of Yzerman and Lidstrom. Dion Phaneuf is going to come off as a blunt lunkhead who was suspended once during the taping. That said …
12. Unleash The Phuthbert!
Look, our athletes can date and/or marry famous people too! And then hand out with other famous people like Damon Wayans Jr.! (Seriously, HBO, for all the times you’ve shown “The Girl Next Door” you should be able to give Elisha Cuthbert some love on “24/7”.)
13. Will They Revisit The Steve Moore Incident?
Todd Bertuzzi is an interesting character on his own, but the notion that an NHL player has a trial date next year for one of the most infamous assaults in hockey history might be one to explore in a segment. It’s how many casual fans know Bertuzzi; but would the NHL allow HBO to go there?
14. Will They Get Into Faith?
Reimer and Datsyuk are two players that are outward about their faith, and the role it plays in their lives. It’s a topic no previous “24/7” has gotten into all that much, even around the holidays.
15. Wither Fighting?
Fighting is an unavoidable topic with the Leafs, who lead the NHL with 26 majors. Last in the NHL in majors? Detroit, with four. It’s a complete contrast in styles. But furthermore, what about the fighters? Can HBO get into things like concussions and CTE with someone like Colton Orr? Or will fighting be glorified on “24/7”, with someone like Orr or Frazer McLaren turned into a cult hero for his fisticuffs?
16. Sidney Crosby Haters, Beware
Oh, hey, would you look at that: Despite being in another division, the Pittsburgh Penguins face both the Red Wings (Dec. 14) and Maple Leafs (Dec. 16) ahead of the Dec. 21 episode of “HBO 24/7”. That’s some crazy timing right there, lemme tell ya.
17, Phil Kessel Will Be Everyone’s Socially Awkward Brother
No one expects Kessel to flip on a top hat and dazzle us with a musical number on “24/7”, mostly because he’d sing down to his shoes and it's hard to find a hat that fits him. In theory, he's going to be the most boring thing to hit HBO since "The Tree Of Life." But Kessel does have some charm, awkward that it is, and one assumes he’ll come off as the round-cheeked adorkable brother we all wanted and/or your laidback stoner friend.
18. Stephen Weiss Shows Up For An NHL Taping
You know, unlike for everything else this season. /rimshot
19. Daniel Alfredsson, Veteran Dude
The HBO cameras were already rolling when Alfie made his return to Ottawa. But beyond that drama, he’s also going to be that veteran player who’s looking for one last shot at glory. And that’s pretty much the easiest sell in the history of sells for sports editing.
20. Potential Breakout Stars: Dan Cleary and Frazer McLaren
Everything we’ve heard from the Wings indicates they believe Dan Cleary could be the most personable player on “24/7” this season. Add a little drama about his struggles this season, and this could be a compelling character to follow.
A fighter and a talker and someone that doesn’t exactly leap to mind when it comes to breakout stars. But with John-Michael Liles – our real choice – in and out of the lineup, Frazer McLaren could be that guy.
21. The Dec. 21 Game Will Be Treated Epically
The best thing HBO ever filmed for this series was the battle between the Penguins and Capitals in their lead-up game to the Winter Classic. It might still be the best documentary-style presentation of a hockey game ever aired. So when the Wings travel to Toronto to face the Leafs on that Saturday, the stakes will be high as division opponents and hopefully the drama is, too.
22. The Adventures of Gardner and Rielly
When Danny Briere and Claude Giroux roomed together, it made for some great segments on Season 2 of “24/7”. Jake Gardner and Morgan Rielly are house buddies too, but one expects their adventures to be solid comic relief for the Leafs. The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this Shakespearian tale.
23. Give Us The Alumni Game Coverage We So Desire
The alumni games for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were given cursory coverage, which is a shame. This one is different, however, not only because it’s at Comerica Park but because of all the Red Wing reunion stuff happening on the Detroit side: Lidstrom’s return, Yzerman and Fedorov, yadda yadda. We know it detracts from the Winter Classic narratives, but give us old schoolers our moment of nostalgasm. Or just 20 minutes of Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman talking hockey.
24. Finally, We Hope The Quality Is Maintained
HBO “24/7” is truly one of the greatest pieces of entertainment, propaganda and compelling television to ever emerge from the NHL. The Wings and Leafs might not have the same level of sex appeal as the four that preceded them, but that’s the real challenge, right? To bring forth the characters, personalities and stories we may not be aware of when we think of these teams.
So hopefully the standard of excellence is maintained. Hopefully the cinematography remains breathtaking. And hopefully we get to hear Liev Schreiber wrap his voice around “Justin Abdelkader” like a noble boa constrictor.