TORONTO – There were more cameras than normal at Wednesday’s Toronto Maple Leafs practice, and goaltender James Reimer didn’t know what was going on at first.
The Leafs are used to the bright lights and attention that come with playing in Canada’s biggest NHL market, but this was something different as HBO’s “24/7” was making its first appearance at the team’s practice facility, more than three months before the Winter Classic. It was a one-day cameo and a taste of what players and coaches will encounter once daily shooting gets underway in December for the league’s annual behind-the-scenes series.
“This is just a precursor to what’s coming,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “We’ve had our preliminary discussions about how we’re going to deal with it and what we’re going to do. In reality, we’re not going to see them again, probably, till Dec. 1.”
Carlyle doesn’t think it’ll be a major change for his players, given the attention they already get in Toronto.
“They’re going to have to live like I live, having you guys in my face all the time,” Carlyle said, surrounded by the usual throng of reporters that greet him after every practice. “Obviously it’s a challenge to get used to it, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s that drastic. I think it’s something that we’ve committed to, we’re part of the NHL and we’re participating. We’ll have to deal with it and move forward.”
Carlyle didn’t have any say in taking part in “24/7,” which will get inside access to the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings in the month leading up to the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1. The show got strong reviews during the first season with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010-11 and then again in 2011-12 with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
And while Carlyle didn’t seek advice from the coaches who went through the process, Reimer talked to players who were a part of those incarnations and came away with the impression that it was fun to be a part of “24/7.”
“I’ve watched the show in the past, it’s entertaining, and I would expect it to be this year, too,” winger Joffrey Lupul said. “People want to see the players’ personalities and see the preparation for games. I think the key is probably just to be yourself.”
Lupul hopes his teammates enjoy the exposure that comes with being on HBO and knows some will like it more than others. Some personalities, like those of Lupul and centre Nazem Kadri, will likely make them even more popular with fans around the league.
Of course it’s not like the Leafs need to sell their brand, but that doesn’t make “24/7” a fruitless endeavour.
“It’s branding, it’s selling the game not only to our market but I guess you would say to North America and available to anywhere in the world,” Carlyle said. “That’s the way we look at it because we’re (an NHL) partner, we were asked to participate. The people that are in those positions made the decision that we’d like to be there, so you live with it.”
That includes living with the good and bad of HBO documenting players’ lives beyond games and practices.
“I think you just get used to it,” Reimer said. “I think at first it’s maybe a little weird or a bit unnatural for a lack of a better word, but then they’re just around all the time so you just get used to it and so you don’t even think about it.”
Of course, Reimer said, distractions are always a concern. But Carlyle is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Is there more distractions, is there more interference, is there more this, is there more white noise?” he said. “That’s a thing that you’ll have to live it before you can make the determination whether it was positive or negative.”