Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rangers-Flyers 24/7 Debut A Hit

When your own fans are counting down the minutes until HBO's award winning 24/7 that documents the preparation of both Winter Classic participants, the Rangers and Flyers, you know the NHL has a hit. For a league that's never been spot on about much aside from driving writers and fans alike crazy with every rule tweak, they hit a home run with last year's inaugural appearance on HBO Sports, which pitted Sid The Kid's Pens versus Ovi's Caps in the 2011 Classic.

This time, a blood rivalry is renewed when old Patrick foes, the Rangers and Flyers take to the made up ice at Citizens Bank Park for a unique setting this January 2. There will also be the Legends Game on New Year's Eve which should energize players from both sides along with each fanbase. There's just nothing like pond hockey. From the time the Oilers hosted the first one against the Habs pre-lockout in the Hockey Heritage Game, these events have become a league signature. Yes. It's already become overhyped, especially with astronomical costs pricing most out of even scoring tickets. However, one thing remains the same. The passion on display leading up to the marquee event as depicted by HBO is great theater.

Finally, Part I of IV debuted last night at 10 ET with the repeat at 11 ET. And boy, the amazing backdrop they opened with of both cities was ultra cool. The setting for New York City was classic with closeups of true New Yorkers headed to work with one on the subway. A part of our culture that isn't as fickle as everyday traffic. Right away, you noticed the hatred between the clubs with noted pest Sean Avery exchanging a classic barb during the first meeting.

"You bleepin' loser."
Between the first of many f-bombs with Peter Laviolette getting the ball rolling to John Tortorella's plea for star Marian Gaborik to get going in a recent win with the potential All-Star responding with a power play goal, HBO Sports had again captivated the Classic participants in rare form. But it wasn't all fun and laughs. Not when Mike Del Zotto crashed hard into the boards during a race for a puck with Toronto's David Steckel, that included a loud thud right into the boards with MDZ protecting his head. That he was mic'd up gave viewers more perspective into how dangerous icings can be when two players are neck and neck. It only reaffirms Del Zotto's point following a tough loss that maybe it's time to change the rule. Hybrid icing wouldn't result in such huge risks. I was never a proponent but sometimes, such scary events can change my mind. Listening to MDZ discuss his close call on the way to the rink while getting razzed by Dan Girardi for getting treatment portrayed things in a whole new light. The game of hockey is super fast and we got a taste of the scary aspect up close.

HBO also made sure to include Flyer star Claude Giroux's recent concussion during a freak incident with teammate Wayne Simmonds, who immediately apologized to 'G' after his knee caught the league's leading scorer. Getting to see Giroux taken to the Flyer locker room for precaution due to any head hit gave us some insight into the safety policy. Of course, we couldn't see him fully examined with it covered up but it speaks to how dangerous the sport is. Even your own teammates can accidentally hurt you because they can't get out of the way. It brings to mind how Pat LaFontaine's career ended when he collided with ex-teammate Mike Keane. Given the PCS Sidney Crosby is again experiencing following a loss to Boston last week, it speaks to the gross nature of the sport. You're always at risk. Based on the list of players who are mostly stars that's growing (Crosby, Giroux, Marc Staal, Jeff Skinner, Mike Sauer, etc.), nobody's safe. Can anything be done to prevent the league wide epidemic?

It'd be easy to forget some of the funny moments Episode I gave us. So, we'll pick our top five:

1.Ilya Bryzgalov discussing the solar system at length as being humongous along with his keen sense of humor that his coach termed as different than most. He talked about how he was getting into Hell by choosing Philly. Then in the next breath, he's given a small bottle of alcohol that would kill tigers. "Death penalty," Bryz pops. Who knew the man was so analytical about the Earth and one of the randomest, insanely funny dudes our league has?

2.Artem Anisimov's goal celebration, which he later referenced was a tribute to a fallen comrade in the Lokomotiv tragedy. Of course, the Lightning reacted the way any team would thinking he was shooting his stick at them with Vinny Lecavalier and Steve Downie taking exception. We got to hear some of the chaos with Brandon Dubinsky ripping into the ref for the 16 minutes Artie received with Dubi screaming, "[Lecavalier] started the whole bleepin' thing."

Even more amusing was Anisimov who asked what he did in that cool Russian accent before skating off to the dressing room to sit by himself until teammates entered. There was Sean Avery with a huge smirk as he passed by while Brandon Prust laughed and Artie said, "I was just reloading my gun." The only one not laughing was a fuming Tortorella who referenced the incident as idiotic because it put them in a whole heap of trouble. "They're coming," he warned. His former team came with Dominic Moore's tying shorty leaving a grimace on Tort's face as he talked to assistant Mike Sullivan. They would fall when Moore again picked high glove on Henrik Lundqvist, who then sat by himself at his locker with a pained look as if about to cry. The prideful man hates losing. Especially in a shootout. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't find out a bit more about our star goalie aside from the comical credit card roulette that we'll get to.

3.Scott Hartnell/Matt Cooke exchange during the first Battle Of Pennsylvania was priceless. Following a Hartnell hit to a Pen, Cooke called out the orange haired Flyer by saying, "What the bleep are you doing?" But Hartnell deadpanned, "Cooke. You're the dirtiest player in the league. It was a hit." Easily one of the laugh out loud moments. Talk about irony. I also liked from before the game when Dan Bylsma visited ex-pupil Max Talbot. Though I'm no fan of Talbot, it was awesome to see Bylsma pay tribute to the former Cup hero by saying: "So now you're a goalscorer." Classic.

4.Credit Card Roulette- There are too many words. While captain Ryan Callahan treated his family to dinner that included 95-year old grandma, the rest of the Blueshirts ate out together. Then came the favorite part where someone has to pay for the fancy meal. In an epic game of credit card roulette in which they all tossed their cards into a hat, the unlucky winner was Jeff Woywitka, who had to foot the bill with King Henrik. I hope Lundqvist coughed up a little bit more given the salary difference. Best part was when team clown Brandon Prust remarked: "Thanks for dinner." A reference to the Mighty Ducks III. Now, everyone wants to emulate the Ranger tradition when they're out with friends. Nothing like splitting the difference.

5.Garden Of Dreams night out with the Rockettes was interesting as underprivileged kids got the luxury treatment in a huge limo with all the trimmings. A special treat for children who aren't as fortunate. But it was obvious that Brian Boyle enjoyed staring at those long legs while Prust put some popcorn in Lundqvist's hair. You can't make it up.

Honorable Mention would have to be the Flyer dressing room post-win dancing to Mac Miller's "Knock, Knock" was pretty bleepin' epic. The scene with Simmonds in the locker room was great. I just hope we don't hear it following the big game.

Moment Of Episode I: That was stolen by Callahan's grandma, who was a bundle for everyone watching. From her and Mama Cally upset over a hideous crosschecking call on their kid in Buffalo to the awesome embrace Ryan gave his 95-year old granny following a win in which he scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal to loud cheers from the family, it was easily one of the coolest moments HBO's ever given us. When you hear Cally talk about her and how he doesn't know how much longer she'll be around, it makes you realize how important family is. We all have grandparents. I wish ours were still around. I will never forget those special moments spent with them as long as I live. If only we could go back. Yes. It was touching and tear worthy. I hope we get to see more of her but doubt it considering there won't be another Buffalo game leading up to January 2nd. It makes you want Captain Cally to bring the Cup back for her. That would be the perfect script.

My only other gripe was not much of Jaromir Jagr other than him explaining how much he's enjoying life in Philly. As odd as it still seems, No.68 has fit in well, leaving Giroux to praise the future Hall Of Famer. Though it was interesting to hear him say, "Sometimes you think with your heart over your head." The stuff on going opposite instead of returning for one final sendoff with Pittsburgh where his jersey would hang was compelling. You never know what he's thinking. But there's definitely a lot going on.

1 comment:

Hasan said...

I'll go your first paragraph one better...when fans of OTHER teams are looking forward to the series you know you've got gold. Even though I'm predisposed to not liking either team, I knew Tort behind the scenes would be entertaining...he's entertaining enough in front of the camera.

Agreed with your entire review pretty much. I had no idea Bryz was that 'colorful' but then again, I guess most goalies are to a degree. I do think they'll get around to the better players like Lundqvist and Jagr in subsequent episodes, it seems as if they're careful not to overload on the big names early.

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