HBO's 24/7 Flyers-Rangers: Road To The NHL Winter Classic debuts on Wednesday night. For all intents and purposes, the show, now in its second season, might be the best part of league's annual outdoor showcase.
I know that personally, I'm looking forward to sitting back and watching TV for the next four Wednesday nights much more than I am to wake up on Monday, January 2 and drive to Philadelphia for the actual hockey game. That isn't an indictment on the game or anything like that. I'm not one of those people who think the Winter Classic is going stale or anything of the sort. I'm a complete Winter Classic geek, actually.
It is an indictment on the HBO show and how incredible it is, however. It makes you feel like you're actually embedded with each team for two weeks, living through all the ups and downs and yes, all the swearing. It's the best thing that's ever happened to hockey on television.
So with that said, it's a new season, and HBO has been following around two new teams over the last several weeks. The Flyers and Rangers will be sitting down in front of their televisions just like we will over the next month, and they'll be wondering what will be broadcast to millions just as much as we will be.
Let's take a look at five things that might find their way onto our televisions in episode one.
5. Injuries behind the scenes
The Flyers in particular have been absolutely ravaged by injuries over the last few weeks. All season, really. As of the start of the HBO show, they're missing their two best players, Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux, with either concussions of concussion-like symptoms. The Flyers have been less than truthful with the media about some of these injuries, so it'll be curious to see how much they knew and when they knew it.
And of course, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal has been out all season with a concussion of his own.
On the flip side, how do the players handle the adversity behind the scenes? One of the more compelling arcs of the Pens-Caps show a year ago was how they chronicled injuries to Jordan Staal and Mike Green. Pronger in particular is a man who doesn't seem like he deals with injury all that well. What's he really like when the doors are closed?
4. Which team is more entertaining?
Unlike last year, where the Penguins were portrayed as the happy-go-lucky team riding the hot streak and the Caps were the miserable bastards who couldn't win a thing, the Flyers and Rangers are on relatively equal footing.
Both teams are winning, battling for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and, well, neither team has reason to be down in the dumps. We're going to see two teams having fun, but one of them will likely come off better than the other. So, which team is it?
3. Sean Avery.
Avery is a walking television show in his own right, but we've never seen cameras actually follow him around to this extent. Given his demotion to the AHL earlier in the year and his return to the Rangers lineup a few weeks later, what is his role on the team? Off the ice, what is Avery really like? How do his teammates take to him? How does he interact with John Tortorella? What does he do in his spare time? Is he really a total jerk?
2. Which personalities will become stars?
Max Talbot was already a star in Pittsburgh last year, but we really learned about his personality on 24/7. He became even more of a folk hero for his Christmas sweaters and handlebar mustache. Which players come out as the most entertaining this year?
Maybe James van Riemsdyk is the funniest dude you've ever met, and maybe Brandon Dubinsky isn't actually boring as rocks. Or maybe John Tortorella is actually a calm, restrained human being when the bright lights aren't shining.
1. Artem Anisimov on the firing range
Artem Anisimov isn't exactly known as a guy that stirs the pot, but that 's exactly what he did last week in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is exactly the sort of thing we want to see behind the scenes. How pissed were the Bolts once they returned to the locker room after this whole mess?
How awesome did the Rangers think it was, despite the fact that they said all the right things -- "he shouldn't have done it", etc. -- when they were in the privacy of their own locker room? What did the officials think of it? What was said on the ice? These are all questions with potentially awesome answers, and hopefully we'll see a few of those answers on HBO Wednesday night.