24/7 episode 4 recap: The sweet spot

Matt Larkin
winterclassic

Episode rating: 4/5

Warning: Some clips in this post contain coarse language and/or graphic imagery.

Point and shoot.

When your hockey documentary series pits two Original Six franchises against each other before 105,491 fans outdoors in a snowstorm, that’s all you need to do. Aim the camera on the action and press record. The stuff writes itself.

And that’s why the finale of 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs goes off without a hitch. It lets us take in the sights and sounds in the moments before, during and after last week’s Winter Classic.

It’s hard to screw up this kind of episode, but I shouldn’t sell HBO’s effort short. Aside from the hockey action, it also finds its sweet spot and extracts the most candid dialogue from the players all season (episode 2 was raw beauty, but belonged to coaches Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle).

The Wings and Leafs seem more comfortable on camera at this point. Maybe that’s because, ironically enough, they are more uncomfortable than teams previously featured and relax knowing the experience is almost over.

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Winter Classic is a feast for the senses – and isn’t about the results

Adam Proteau
2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Toronto Maple Leafs v Detroit Red Wings

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – In essence, the NHL’s annual Winter Classic outdoor game is like improv comedy: when it’s good, it’s excellent – and when it’s not good, well, you probably don’t want to stick around for all that long to see the end.

Fortunately for the world’s top league, there has never been a full-on weather disaster to completely derail what has become a marquee event. And the 2014 game at Michigan Stadium was no different; in spite of blustery winter weather and driving conditions best described by not describing them at all, the picture at the sixth Winter Classic Wednesday morning looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Once again, the NHL looked like it had Mother Nature on its payroll.

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Will Winter Classic set attendance record? Big House is the place to do it

(Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Garrett Perry

It’s been dubbed the Big House: Michigan Stadium. A place where Heisman Trophy winners have been crowned, football history written and attendance records shattered.

Home of the Michigan Wolverines for almost a century, it’s the largest stadium in the United States, and third largest in the world. It has an official capacity of 109,901, but it’s held crowds in excess of 110,000 on numerous occasions.

And while the classic venue is widely recognized for its boisterous crowds during Wolverine football games, it has a history with hockey as well.

On Dec. 11, 2010, the Michigan Wolverines played the Michigan State Spartans in the Cold War II, an outdoor hockey game that drew 104,073 spectators and obliterated previous hockey attendance records by almost 25,000. The record still stands today. The event was officially advertised as the Big Chill at the Big House, and would see the Wolverines defeat their archrival by a score of 5-0. Read more

24/7 episode 3 recap: Home for the holidays

Matt Larkin
wings leafs edited

Episode rating: 3/5

Warning: Some clips in this post contain coarse language.

Episode 3 of 24/7 Red Wings Maple Leafs is nothing if not atmospheric. Does it make my heart pound with intensity? No. HBO continues to take what these two relatively tranquil teams give it and, this week, it’s weariness and some time at home.

But that’s not necessary a bad thing. At least it’s a real thing. These are two teams struggling to win consistently, limping toward their Christmas break in front of our eyes, and while it’s not as exciting as Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle chewing the scenery in episode 2, it feels accurate. These are the dog days of the NHL season, especially for teams hounded by extra media coverage, and episode 3 helps us understand what it feels like.

The second instalment was very much about pure, raw hockey and while that’s not the case here, episode 3 gives us one hefty dose in the form of Dec. 21’s Wings/Leafs tilt at the Air Canada Centre, a conveniently scheduled precursor to the Winter Classic. We get a nice sense of momentum shifts as the teams trade goals and leads from one period to the next and it seems HBO picked the right guys to mic up. David Clarkson and Todd Bertuzzi’s water bottle debate is pretty funny stuff, though it doesn’t do the hockey player stereotype any good. These guys don’t come across like Harvard grads:

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24/7 episode 2 recap: Reality check

Matt Larkin
Mike Babcock (Getty Images)

Episode rating: 4/5

Warning: Some clips in this post contain coarse language.

How do you keep a great show great when your star characters change season to season?

That’s the question that plagued the premiere of 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs. It no longer had Boudreaus and Bryzgalovs to carry it, its subjects didn’t seem too interested or comfortable with the camera on them and there were few memorable moments. The lackuster episode felt a lot like a big shoulder shrug from HBO. What can you expect? We aren’t miracle workers.  We got stuck with two lame, struggling teams this season and they simply aren’t as cool as the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers and Rangers. Better luck next year.

But after viewing the far more raw, far more real, far more compelling second episode of this season, I wonder if HBO was simply viewing the question the wrong way. How do you keep a great show great in 24/7’s case? Don’t attempt to recreate past successes with a new cast. Instead, do what you can with the group in front of you, even if that means producing something different.

It took an episode, but perhaps HBO understands what it has now. These guys may not have the New York glam of the Rangers, for example, but they can be just as interesting when the show doesn’t force things and reacts to what happens naturally. Episode 2 works because, instead of the forced comedy of Leafs coach Randy Carlyle playing with a toaster, it focuses on something refreshing: hockey.

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24/7 episode 1 recap: Sleepy and hollow

Matt Larkin
carlyletoaster

Episode rating: 2.5/5

Warning: Some clips in this post contain coarse language.

It was the perfect TV storm on paper. And then it aired. And then it wasn’t.

When the NHL (re)announced the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings would play in the next Winter Classic and HBO would reprise its groundbreaking series, 24/7, I fist-pumped. Two Original Six squads, both coming off surprisingly strong playoff showings, both pegged by pundits like us as teams on the rise, both hockey markets, ready to star on the best hockey documentary series ever made? Yes, please. It couldn’t miss. We had stars of the game like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, charming characters like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson and quotable coaches in down-to-earth Mike Babcock and blunt Randy Carlyle.

The season premiere aired Saturday and there’s no point sugarcoating it: we hockey people love this series, but season 3, episode 1 was somewhat of snoozer, more so than the eight episodes that preceded it. To understand what went wrong, let’s remember what made 24/7 Penguins/Capitals and 24/7 Flyers/Rangers so good:

1. Memorable characters. Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis are funny. Marc-Andre Fleury is a quirky prankster. Ilya Bryzalov needs no introduction in the sport anymore, and that’s because of the personality he showed on 24/7.

2. Fiery coaches. Bruce Boudreau put the series on the map in season 1, episode 1 with his profanity-laden tirades. Not to be outdone were the calculating Dan Bylsma, the prickly Peter Laviolette (just ask Steve Ott) and John Tortorella, who was yelling at the Rangers not to s— their pants one minute and reaching out to a child in need the next.

3. Music. The tracks in seasons 1 and 2 were great. People rushed to Google the tunes they couldn’t get out of their heads and came up with M83’s Midnight City and Fitz and the Tantrums’ Moneygrabber.

4. Rivalry. Penguins/Capitals was Crosby/Ovechkin and two teams who had played a seven-game playoff war a season and a half prior. The Flyers and Rangers…that one doesn’t even need explaining.

While one episode doesn’t condemn a season, the opener of 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs lacks sparkle because it’s arguably missing all those elements.

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