How we see NHL players is not how they see themselves. We make the sports myths they embody, but when the jerseys are off and the skates are bagged, they’re sons and brothers and fathers. They’re us, only in a higher tax bracket and with talent we could only dream of possessing.
The holiday break episode of “HBO 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road To The NHL Winter Classic” is heavy on the personal lives of players, and how they find some sense of self away from their roles on the teams or the expectations of their contracts. Visiting a restaurant. Being with family, and visiting a childhood room. Taking a spin on a frozen pond.
All of it is about connecting (or reconnecting) with their roots, which is the (clichéd) motivation for any of them to care about the Winter Classic.
It yields some lovely moments for Episode 3, but also a lot of tedium. It’s the Chipolte burrito of “24/7” episodes: Delicious filler, but filler nonetheless.
Especially when it’s wrapped around an extended game-footage showdown between the Leafs and Wings from Toronto, which is one of the best segments of the season even if it doesn’t rise to the dramatic levels the previous two seasons had during their Winter Classic preview games.
It's a decidedly average episode. My initial diagnosis of this season is that the show suffers when there's no connection between the teams we care about, i.e. Sidney vs. Ovi or the decades-long rivalry between the Flyers and Rangers. Watching two teams that don't care about each other crap the bed for three hours is not the sturdiest foundation on which to build a "24/7" season.
Again, something’s off about this series. It is a problem with the “24/7” template, or it is the series’ success entirely determined by the material provided by the teams?
And are we the only ones wishing they had done the Ducks and Kings instead?
KEEP IN MIND ALL THE VIDEOS HAVE STRONG ADULT LANGUAGE!
And here … we … go.
This Week On 24/7
Previously on “24/7”, everyone on the Red Wings is injured and they’re losing every game, the Maple Leafs looked great against Chicago and crappy against Pittsburgh, and the coaches kicked the cameras out of the locker rooms, because obviously that’s the problem.
The Leafs are feeling better about life after a shootout win against the Phoenix Coyotes. (Their fifth in 15 games … plan the parade.) You know, the “whispering ref” game. We hear a voice that proclaims “that’s [expletive] in!” when Mike Smith allows a goal to James van Riemsdyk, but we’re not sure it was one of the referees saying it to Smith.
The Red Wings get the slow-mo-walking-on-a-private-jet treatment before we learn that they’re also coming into their game in Toronto with good vibes, as Daniel Alfredsson scores in OT to beat Calgary. But watch out, fellas: That Canadian ice is mighty slippery when de-planing.
We take a detour to Brendan Smith’s house in Toronto to meet two adorable hockey parents, who have both the Wings defenseman and his brother, Reilly Smith of the Boston Bruins, in the NHL. Their parents have turned their old room into a shrine to the brothers’ hockey careers, and Smith spins a yarn about how he grew up a Leafs fans and Reilly grew up a Wings fan and they fought over the color scheme in the room.
It’s filler but cute filler, culminating in a punchline in which Brendan claims Reilly hit him from behind and their father corrects the record to state that “Brendan went down like a cheap suit.” So did he actually mean:
A. He folded like a cheap tent?
B. His embellishment was uglier than a cheap suit?
C. He initially said “cheap prostitute” and they redid the take after his wife slugged him in the arm?
The Wings and Leafs practice ahead of their not-at-all anticipated game preceding the Winter Classic. Cool shot: Jonas Gustavsson watching his former team practice from the edge of the tunnel. Not so cool: Dan Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk doing the “Who Is The Magic Man?” bit for the cameras.
For the uninitiated, if you ask Siri that question, the answer immediately mentions Datsyuk. There's some MVP-level humoring by Datsyuk, who has known about the “Magic Man” thing since he picked up the phone and called Apple to make the joke happen.
Meanwhile, Hunky Everyman David Clarkson takes the subway to the game to stay connected to his blue collar roots, despite having a contract that eclipses the gross national product of several Caribbean nations. He’s such a man of the people that he refuses to even sit alone:
In the dressing room, assistant coach Greg Cronin fires up the troops by asking if the players are a friend or an enemy of complacency, to which Nazem Kadri answers “friend”, after which we better understand why he’s been so epically boring this series.
Full disclosure: The first 20 minutes or so of this episode were like watching the movie trailers before the feature. Strike that: They were like watching the public service announcements before the trailers before the features. And now that we know where the exits to the theater are located and to silence our phones, it’s finally GAME ON between the Leafs and Wings.
Babcock and Carlyle address the troops with interesting specificity -- loved Carlyle breaking down the Wings' defense -- and the requisite amounts of intensity. The game itself is well-shot with great sound; really, we could watch HBO slow-mo of Datsyuk skating and going backhand shelf on a loop for the rest of our lives and be completely happy.
The coaches bring it between periods, too, although it lacks the fire we saw in the previous two series’ pre-Classic showdowns. Then again, so has the entire third season, so …
James Reimer gets pulled, Jonathan Bernier comes in, and Todd Bertuzzi does the single most dastardly thing he’s ever done as an NHL player.
OK, second most dastardly. By, like, a rather large margin.
WARNING: VERY VERY STRONG ADULT LANGUAGE IN THIS CLIP.
Can't believe it's taken this long for the issue of water bottle abuse to be raised in the NHL. They're tossed around, drained of their essence, slammed down by goalies, shot at by people like Todd Bertuzzi and eventually unceremoniously. We'd like nothing more than for water bottles to be to David Clarkson as homeless dogs are to David Backes. Cue the Sarah McLachlan music ...
It’s all fun and interesting, including a video review to the War Room, and Datsyuk scores to tie a nice bow around his “magic man” arc while Clarkson scores to ease his struggles.
Again, “24/7” does a great job subtly setting up storylines that are resolved later in the episode.
We then catch up with Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser for a fun little segment that shows him at this ritualistic Monday haunt – an Italian restaurant where he poses for photos and signs a dinner plate for a server.
(An aside: Can some NHL player out there please be the first to spark a fashion trend that lessens the number of plain grey toques in circulation? We’re looking at you, David Booth, who undoubtably owns several varieties of camo ear-flap hats with faux antlers on them.)
The Red Wings play the Islanders and look absolutely terrible, as Mike Babcock demands some “[expletive] balls from his players. Drew Miller and Matt Martin share some holiday pleasantries:
WARNING: VERY VERY STRONG ADULT LANGUAGE IN THIS CLIP.
Daaaaaang ... the prematurely gray hair burn.
(An aside: Does Drew Miller wear a natural hair color toque?)
The Leafs play in MSG, as van Riemsdyk faces his childhood favorite team. They lose in (yet another) shootout.
The holiday break arrives, and our interest in this episode leaves with about 13 minutes left. Joffrey Lupul stays in New York City for Christmas Eve and gets his Sean Avery on, shopping at stylish shops. He says he wants to live in NYC at some point, but is happy to be a Leaf. Until Glen Sather inevitably overpays him in a few years.
It’s a Swedish Christmas with the Alfredssons! They eat weird food and drink mulled wine that sounds like a stool from IKEA! Santa Claus arrives, and at one point it appears Alfredsson’s sons are going to stab him with pirate swords and lightsabers! (Alas, this is not an actual part of Swedish Christmas.) Santa’s identity is never revealed, so we’ll just assume it’s Franzen.
It’s a Jersey Christmas at the van Riemsdyks, and James’ dad looks like a WASPy version of Eugene Levy! They play outdoor hockey in a segment that couldn't feel longer than if Peter Jackson had filmed them walking to the rink.
Finally, Henrik Zetterberg’s beard looks stunning on his backyard pond, and we're reminded how much more time we wish this series had spent with him (despite the injury). With that, Liev Schreiber brings us home:
“No one ever said that once hockey becomes a job, you have to stifle why you fell for it in the first place. After all, who would ever claim that drive and passion are mutually exclusive? And who would ever argue that for them, a love for the game would be a disadvantage?”
This is a really poignantly stated idea. It might be a quote you memorize after tossing it on your wall somewhere.
It’s also completely disconnected from the three hours of television we’ve experienced with the Leafs and Wings so far. Clarkson's the only player who seems at war with his blue collar roots and his job status. It seems pulled from a more interesting series we're not watching.
49-ish. More game footage, more locker room speeches, more F’n fun.
Nada. Guessing the cameras weren't allowed to film the naked, bare-knuckled fight between Bertuzzi and Clarkson after the game.
Hockey Geek Moment
Seeing the phrase “BURN THE BOATS” emblazed all over the Maple Leafs’ room, which we assume is a reference to the Viking funeral held on Lake Ontario for each season that falls short of the Cup.
Missing In Action
Phil Kessel talking to a camera, Morgan Reilly, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Android phones, players sleeping, Rob Ford, Reilly Smith in person, butt goals, ping-pong.
2. James van Riemsdyk’s dad. Because Middletown, New Jersey REPRESENT!
1. Todd Bertuzzi. For ending two episodes of frightening death stares by abusing a goalie’s water bottle