The four-episode, in-the-locker-room series showcases the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals leading up to their matchup in the annual NHL Winter Classic, a New Year’s Day game played in an outdoor stadium. This year it will be held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, in front of 65,000 fans and the winter elements.
I must say that when I heard that the 24/7 crew was teaming up with the NHL to document two teams leading up to the Winter Classic, it initially didn’t spark my interest. For many, hockey is hard to watch, and there are a lot of games in the season. For me, I don’t really get into hockey until the NHL playoffs begin. That’s when the real season starts. The Winter Classic is just another regular season game. Yes, it’s outside and yes, it’s usually held in a great outdoor setting, but really, what’s the big deal? After what I saw in the first episode of 24/7 with the Penguins and Capitals, you better believe I will be watching the game on New Year’s Day.
In just one of 24/7, I have become enthralled by two hockey organizations I normally wouldn’t give a hoot about. (Just like Rex Ryan and the boys during Hard Knocks.) The HBO cameras put you right in the action with the phenomenal Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, who are on an 11-game winning streak. It’s great to watch Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma work to keep the winning alive. It’s hard to get a winning streak going, and even harder to keep one going. Times are good for the Penguins in the first episode of 24/7.
The locker room for the Capitals is a complete different story. They can’t win a game, despite being one of the best teams in the NHL. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau couldn’t be more frustrated with the losses. They can’t shake the losing curse. Boudreau tries a tough love approach to coaching. He tries encouragement. In just one episode, it seems Boudreau tries everything to get his team on the winning track.
Remember the negative publicity Jets coach Rex Ryan received after a few episodes of Hard Knocks concerning his foul language? Well, after one depressing defeat, Boudreau’s language make’s Rex Ryan’s language sound like a children’s bedtime story you would read to your 5-year-old daughter. Boudreau can drop some f-bombs with the best of them. Do you think he will catch the negative publicity Ryan did? Absolutely not. Somehow, it’s different. It’s hockey.
Statistically, the Penguins fight more than any other team right now and the camera footage (and sound) of the fights are great in 24/7 as well.
“You want to go?” one Penguin player says behind the net during a game clutching an opponent.
“You want to go?” the opponent replies.
“Yeah?” And the gloves come off in a good old-fashioned bloody hockey fight. OK, so you normally get to see the fights while watching games on TV, but what you don’t get to see is the coach and teammates congratulating the player for the fight at intermission. You don’t get to see a player’s eye stitched up in the locker room after getting cut during a fight.
For regular hockey fans, 24/7 simply reaffirms everything they love about hockey. Quirky locker rooms. Facial hair competitions. Great athletes. For those who don’t quite understand hockey, or haven’t figured out how to enjoy the game of hockey, the show is addictive, and will have you wanting more.
If 24/7 is this good covering two teams during the regular season, imagine if it signed on with the NHL to cover two teams in the NHL playoffs, which are the most demanding and exciting playoffs in professional sports. That kind of reality TV would be unprecedented. I hope the success of this series leads to even more.
The final two 24/7 Penguins/Capitals episodes will be aired on Dec. 29 and Jan. 5, which will debut four days after the Winter Classic, with cameras tracking the action surrounding the two teams on game day.