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:
It feels like everyone involved in the production – except poor Randy Carlyle, who forces a couple groaner Christmas jokes in front of the camera – is growing more natural in 24/7’s presence, and that yields a few gem quotes in episode 3. I love Peter Holland’s brutal mid-game honesty after a missed scoring chance against Jonas Gustavsson:
Joffrey Lupul: Great move, man. Did he get it with his stick?
Holland: No, I f---in missed the net. God damn it.
When Clarkson jams in a hard-to-see goal in the third period against Detroit, HBO takes us into Mike Murphy’s war room, surrounded by more TV screens than Osymandias in Watchmen, and we get an intriguing look into how the NHL relays information to referees when deciding if puck is in or not.
More so than in episodes 1 and 2, HBO succeeds in following the players into their non-hockey lives this time. Clarkson, who gets plenty of overdue coverage in this episode, takes the subway to the rink to avoid traffic. Who knew? And how many people will try to board the subway and Royal York station in Toronto to try and find Clarkson now? He may have created a monster.
Wings defenseman Brendan Smith is a Toronto native and we get some cute footage when he visits his very Christmasy parents in their very Christmasy home and they talk about what it’s like to cheer on Brendan and his brother/fellow NHLer Reilly Smith when Detroit plays Boston. Reilly did hit Brendan from behind, but it was an accident, mom Deidre says. And Brendan went down “like a cheap suit,” dad Lester adds. Good stuff, even though the simile is wrong. Cheap suits don’t go down. They fold, Mr. Smith!
Every player in the episode seems ready for a break, ready to come home, and HBO continues to focus on that by tailing Danny DeKeyser as he eats his usual pregame meal and greets his family post-game, not to mention Daniel Alfredsson at home for Christmas with his family. How about that slender Santa who bangs on the Alfredssons' door on Christmas Eve and hands out presents while speaking Swedish? I was expecting the cameras to reveal him as, say, Niklas Kronwall afterward, but no dice. I suppose that would’ve crushed Alfie’s kids. And seeing James van Riemdsyk have a Christmas hockey game with his family, especially his fired-up dad Franz, is fun, too.
The parents steal several scenes in episode 3 – and it’s debatable whether that’s a good thing. Part of the holiday season is about leaving the drama of your job behind to be at home with your family and that’s what the Red Wings, Leafs and HBO have done in episode 3. While it doesn’t always make for compelling television – I don’t think anyone can deny this is a far more sedate edition than the last – it makes for honest television. The show is so popular because it shows us what’s really happening in day-to-day NHL life and it successfuly does that in episode 3.
Odds and ends:
- Carlyle in practice: “When’s the last time somebody crosschecked somebody off the faceoff”? Spoken like a true coach of one of the league's most penalized teams.
- Anyone else find Dan Cleary’s use of Siri to locate Pavel Datsyuk hard to believe? Well, I pulled out my iPhone, asked Siri to find me the 'Magic Man' and, sure enough, she immediately gave me Datsyuk.
- Meta moment of the episode: van Riemsyk wondering if his dad will embarrass himself and become the next Ilya Bryzgalov. And this comes from someone who was Bryz’s teammate in Philly during the last 24/7 season. Maybe that explains why the players have given us fewer great sound bites this time.
- Another episode with pretty much no Phil Kessel footage. I know he’s notoriously shy, but he hasn’t spoken directly to the camera once? This is the star player on the league’s highest-profile team.
- Skating alone on a pond sure seems like a lonely Christmas for Henrik Zetterberg.
- It was surprising to see Claude Loiselle and the Leafs so candid about having most of Dion Phaneuf’s contract hammered out already. Makes me wonder if it’s a done deal and they’re just pretending there’s a sticking point for the sake of TV drama. Update: as I'm typing, the news breaks Phaneuf has in fact signed a seven-year deal.
- Matt Martin of the New York Islanders owns Detroit’s Drew Miller, reminding Miller “You’ve played more games in the minors than me” and telling him to dye his (gray) hair. Tough to think of a good comeback in that situation.
1. DAVID CLARKSON. No one really stars in episode 3, but Clarkson comes the closest. He is highly involved in the game action and seeing him take public transit is humanizing.
2. HOCKEY PARENTS. Some of the best soundbites come from the Smiths and Franz van Riemsdyk.
3. BRENDAN SMITH. He’s as comfortable on camera as any player featured in the series so far. It's nice seeing him admit to growing up a Leafs fan despite playing for the Winter Classic’s opposing side.
Previous 24/7 recaps:
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin