Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mambino Does Hockey?

The closest I came to writing about hockey was a post about the kid who netted a shot from center ice, only to have his prize money taken away from him. The NHL requires some actual knowledge about hockey, and maybe about Canada too, two things I don't particularly care for. Therefore, enjoy this guest post from my buddy Pucklius (He has a nickname that we all know and love him by, but if I were to repeat it here, I wouldn't be breathing tomorrow morning). It's a preview of tonight's 24/7 - Road to the Winter Classic on HBO. HBO does some fine work with this stuff -- Hard Knocks and the 24/7 Boxing series are as good as it gets. Personally, I wouldn't have cared to check this out tonight, but now I feel morally obliged. A small victory for the NHL in its never-ending pursuit to attract more fans.

Oh, and the guy went a little overboard with the youtube links, but some of them are actually pretty epic.

Hey kids. For those of you who have been coming to The Great Mambino to see what Dwight Howard's choice of sandwich today says about where Orlando is going to ship him, I have some mild disappointment for you. That's probably going to be the last basketball reference I make today because one of the administrators of this fine site has approached me to whip up something about hockey.

See, I like hockey. It's cool.

And I'm not even talking about literally, which, if you've ever covered a morning skate in an empty arena, you know is definitely true. No, I'm talking about the kind of cool where you see totally bonkers forehand/backhand diving scores in the rookie game, indescribable on-ice blunders, or maybe some dazzling passing by some Swedish twins. It's that kind of stuff that makes it the coolest game on Earth after all.

As a result of this fandom, I watch hockey. A lot of it. Like, way more than the daily recommended amount. I'm not sure I'd expect all of you to watch as much as I do, least of all the progenitors of this blog, you should know that it's not too late to get yourself in the game, and tonight HBO just might be providing your gateway drug. That's because tonight will be their second annual forage into hockey with its premiere of 24/7 Rangers-Flyers Road to the Winter Classic.

For those of you who don't remember, HBO did this series for the first time last year, when the League was poised to pit its two biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, against one another. While most of the spotlight was initially intended to be on them, the two who really made the biggest impact were cerebral Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma and the then-head coach of the Capitals Bruce Boudreau, who recently endured the shortest unemployment in NHL history. Even if Boudreau wins seven Stanley Cups in a row in his new Anaheim gig, however, he will almost certainly be remembered most for his tendency to, as Lewis Black might put it, use "fuck" less as a word than a comma. This, it should be noted, did not sit well with his mother.

But what makes this show amazing isn't just the amusing swears or close up camera work. Last season it gave fans a keen insight into the people who make the game, from how players, even superstars, talk on the ice, to the way the refs handle and encourage a fight, to penalties for losing shootouts in practice, to rookie pranks, to Boudreau's anxiety about getting his wife a Christmas present, and perhaps most remarkably, into the refs' locker room during their postgame beer.

The access granted and the view into the worlds of two hockey teams was truly gripping, regardless of whether or not you cared for the sport beforehand. This year, HBO and the NHL are doing a redux for the next Winter Classic, which will feature the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers on January 2nd, at Citizens Bank Park. There should be more intrigue even without Sid and Ovi, but this season's edition will have an added incentive in that the Rangers and Flyers are both pretty good this year. Philadelphia is the top team in the East, while the Rangers aren't too far behind.

There's also star power in Jaromir Jagr and Brad Richards, passionate fan bases in major media markets, two coaches with their names on the Cup and one of whom, New York's John Tortorella, has the potential for some amazingly explosive television moments.

And I haven't even gotten into the fact that in addition to both being good, the Flyers and the Rangers HATE each other. Though, oddly, as a Devils fan, I really hate both of them. You don't need me to go into detail on that myself, though -- I'm pretty sure HBO will do it for you later.

So I don't know what all of you are planning on doing tonight at 10 -- or again at 11 -- but I know that at the very least, my DVR is set, and I won't be going to sleep until I've gotten a chance to watch the first installment of the four-part series.

Give hockey a chance. You might just find that you like it.

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