Hockey, it seems, is a different animal.
While HBO’s 24/7 documentary series appears perfectly formatted—in its series of three or four 30-minute bursts—to the predictable wind-down before a Saturday night superfight, the more cluttered run-up to one of 82 games midway through an NHL schedule feels forced.
And considering the teams had actually played each other earlier Saturday in Toronto (won by Detroit, 5-4, in a shootout), the timing issue seemed particularly awkward.
That’s not to say the second of four programs leading into the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs meeting on New Year’s Day at the University of Michigan’s “Big House” was without worthy moments, but there surely weren’t enough of them to carry 50 minutes worth of airtime.
Of course, the level of vocal gravity provided by narrator Liev Schreiber doesn’t change whether his subjects are in a Las Vegas casino or a Detroit ice rink. Nonetheless, the best stretch of Saturday night’s broadcast came when Schreiber simply stayed silent and let those subjects—namely Wings coach Mike Babcock and Leafs boss Randy Carlyle—carry the story.
The episode wrapped up with a pair of inglorious performances from Tuesday night, when Toronto was beaten, 3-1, at home by Florida, and Detroit dropped a 5-2 decision on home ice to Anaheim. And both Babcock and Carlyle reacted as expected, shooing the cameras from the locker rooms and letting the microphones tell the tale of their dissatisfaction.
Schreiber chimed in with a weighty “In the midst of a marathon season, the darkness of a single night can seem overwhelming” line to follow up the silence and close the show, and it’ll be interesting to see if the producers take the step-back tack more in the final two go-rounds.
Aside from that question, here are some takeaway moments from Episode 2:
A Happy Tune
If you thought all athletes favored new-school hip-hop or old-school arena rock, you were wrong.
The Maple Leafs—or at least the powerful minority of them who control the locker room sound system—showed some on-camera love in Saturday’s episode for the stylings of the modern-day queen of twerking, the lovely and moderately talented Miley Cyrus.
The one-time Disney staple as Hannah Montana has become equivalent to a “Mission Accomplished” sign in Toronto’s postgame gathering, now that her song, "We Can’t Stop," has become standard airplay after victories.
Still, while the song selection is at least moderately popular with the players, their 57-year-old coach—himself a veteran of a 17-year NHL playing career—would go a different direction.
“A lot of their music is the techno stuff that I remember from the disco era a while ago,” said Carlyle, who played for Toronto, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg from 1976 through 1993. “I prefer classic rock. ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy or Black Sabbath.”
Showing Some Sandpaper
Anyone who watches or follows hockey is aware of the rough stuff.
NHL arenas rarely get louder than during the middle of a scrap on the ice, and the spate of concussions over the past several seasons in evidence that it’s not a game for the faint of heart.
Still, the Leafs seem to be having some trouble walking the line of legality when it comes to hits.
Team captain Dion Phaneuf was shown early in the episode returning from a two-game suspension for boarding Boston’s Kevan Miller, while a hit laid out on St. Louis forward Vladimir Sobotka by first-year Leaf David Clarkson—a free-agent signee last summer—cost him a pair of games after it was reviewed at the league’s headquarters.
Clarkson, incidentally, was docked 10 games at the beginning of the season for joining a preseason altercation against the Buffalo Sabres.
It was a spate of rough play in a Toronto game with Pittsburgh on Monday night that prompted one of the top lines of Saturday’s broadcast, which came from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby during a pre-third-period chat session with Phaneuf.
Responding to Phaneuf’s charge that Crosby and teammates were instigating chippy play during a stretch Schreiber labeled “20 minutes of unyielding belligerence,” Crosby replied, “I don't hit anybody. I haven’t hit anybody in a f**king year.”
Feeling the Pinch
Babcock has coached 10 full seasons in the NHL, during which time his teams have gone to the playoffs nine times, played for the league championship twice and won it once.
Still, the Red Wings’ recent struggles—they’d lost six games in a row through the end of Saturday’s material—have got even the winner of more than 450 NHL games looking haggard.
And it certainly doesn’t help matters when the boss shows up to talk shop.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland dropped in to Babcock’s office following a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the coach offered little in the way of rationale when trying to explain the persistent lack of success.
“It’s nothing-nothing after two (periods) and we’ve got to find a way to get the job done, and we’re not doing that,” Holland said. To which Babcock replied, “I thought we did lots of good things, but we found a way not to win.”
The stress didn’t keep Babcock from a little gallows humor, however.
As he wrote and erased names on a locker-room white board, he recited the laundry list of injuries that have left more than a half-dozen regulars unavailable to play.
“These people don’t matter,” he said, referring to the list of injured personnel, before gesturing to the healthy list and adding, “and these people matter.”
“My 16-year-old daughter says she’s cleared and ready to get on the ice.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from HBO's 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs, which aired on Dec. 21, 2013.