Losing is in the spotlight for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings in the premiere of “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.”
With HBO cameras following Dion Phaneuf and Daniel Alfredsson home, Joffrey Lupul to the trainers room and Leafs fans back in time, on the ice there isn’t much in the way of happy endings.
Viewers get an inside look before, during and after the Leafs’ losses to the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings and the Red Wings’ back-to-back defeats against the Florida Panthers. But while narrator Liev Schreiber espouses the importance of losing and foreshadows more adversity ahead, points lost in the standings were only a small part of the first episode.
Instead, the focus is on introducing to a more casual audience the characters NHL fans know so well. Phaneuf is shown twice with movie-star wife Elisha Cuthbert, Alfredsson with his wife, Bibi, and four children, Lupul during rehab from his groin injury and coaches Randy Carlyle and Mike Babcock at the office.
As usual, the Leafs don’t lack for story lines. In addition to Lupul’s recovery, Phaneuf’s hit on Bruins defenceman Kevan Miller and subsequent hearing take centre stage, and Carlyle has what’s sure to be a memorable accident when he has trouble making breakfast.
Alfredsson’s adjustment is a major focus when the show shifts to the Red Wings, along with the goaltending situation between Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson and star Pavel Datysuk’s return to the lineup following a concussion. Babcock’s biggest contribution behind the scenes may be what he lets his players do before the game as a new way of loosening them up.
Introducing the teams it should be no surprise that Detroit’s economic problems and the Leafs’ crushing Game 7 loss to the Bruins in last year’s playoffs get mentions. Reflections of blowing a 4-1 lead only serve as a backdrop to current struggles, while the invocation of 1967 and the Leafs’ NHL-worst Stanley Cup drought get brushed off by a player who can only apologize for a few years without a title in Toronto.
With the line from Schreiber that “disappointments only seem to fortify (the Leafs’) fan base,” the first episode foreshadows more losing ahead. Of course that’s more of a prediction than anything because the two teams are already in the process of writing next week’s show.
The show premieres in Canada Sunday on Rogers Sportsnet at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific.