HBO’s 24/7 – What it Means to the Hockey World
That, in response to HBO’s request for unprecedented access to the behind the scenes life of two of its franchises over several weeks in the middle of the regular season.
HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic is a four-part series following the two teams participating in the NHL’s annual outdoor game. And follow we did. Not just on the ice, but on the bench, in the locker room, in the coach’s office, practice rink, private jets, even players’ homes.
This second season involved the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, two teams whose rivalry is built on proximity and decades of intense and sometimes bloody on ice battles.
This pulling back of the curtain is not only unprecedented because of the behind the scenes nature, but because of the permission for HBO to be unfiltered. The NHL usually has a closed-door policy, and often sweeps matters under the rug that it would not want to become public. No doubt there was some concern that the NHL’s reputation would be at risk.
Anyone that was worried what would happen when the NHL’s underbelly would be exposed can exhale. Of course, we learned all of this a year ago, but the second season only confirmed these realizations.
Yes there were unfiltered moments: a slew of F-bombs, pointed taunts, questionable off-ice activities. But the high points far outshine any negative light. Another concern could have been that professional athletes may not react well to more cameras in their face, when they are constantly held under the microscope already. But it seems that the more exposure, the more endearing NHL players actually become.
Whether it’s as wholesome as Dan Giradi’s small family and his mini hockey stick wielding toddler, or as goofy as some of the Flyer teammates at Scott Hartnell’s bachelor pad, or as humbling as superstar Marian Gaborik declining the delivery of a Christmas tree in favor of putting it on his shoulder, the off-ice activities of these super human athletes bring them back down to Earth with the rest of us. Whatever the reason, we feel a connection to them as a result. Except maybe for Sean Avery.
There are also the downright hilarious moments that become cultlike quotable phrases. This season, HBO made us privy to Ilya Bryzgalov’s philosophical eccentricities that have made him a fan favorite. His unique interests combined with his Russian dialect render his interviews and interactions priceless. If he doesn’t get his own reality show before he retires, someone should get death penalty.
But the focus of the show is still hockey, as it should be.
In just eight episodes, HBO showcased the best hockey-centric cinematography ever captured. I could watch the hockey action (even in practices) in all eight parts on a loop with the TV on mute. It’s breathtaking.
This brilliance is on display in every scene, whether hockey is involved or not: interviews, social events, locker room pow-wows, trainers’ tables, even the winter classic rink construction montage. It’s nothing short of cinematic art.
Put it all together: the personalities, hockey at the highest level, and the cinematography, and what comes out? Words don’t quite do justice to the product.
Categorizing this series is hard to do, because in my mind, it transcends sports programming. HBO does what no other hockey broadcaster has been able to do in the modern era: cater to both hockey enthusiasts and casual observers. ’24/7′ is really an anthropological study of a culture that happens to be a professional hockey team. The observations the program makes about the life of a professional hockey player are poignantly informed yet simple. It shows us that players are both gladiators to marvel at and human beings to sympathize with, all the while showing the utmost respect to the sport.
As I said, words cannot quite articulate the significance of the program, but perhaps the prose (minus insightful symbolistic b-roll supplemented by savvy soundtrack) of the final narration of season two is the best effort:
Never get caught telling a hockey player it’s just a game.
Never get caught trying to explain to him all the things in the world that matter so much more.
His mind might well acknowledge the truth to your point, but his soul would be powerless to accept it, considering the immensity of what he gives to the sport, and the immeasurability of what it offers in return.
Nothing ever feels as perfect as a moment of flawlessness on the ice.
No bond as strong as one that compels brothers to bleed for one another.
Not many leaders are this versed in the craft of motivation.
Not many pursuits can evoke such visions of brilliance.
This is why it hurts so much when skill falls short of what the will desires.
This is why it’s so unforgettable when absolute passion yields ultimate reward.
And that’s all still just the start of what the game can do.