HBO 24/7 will take fans inside Hockeytown

By Stefan Kubus –

The crew at HBO Sports will practically be living with the Detroit Red Wings organization throughout the month of December to film their latest installment of “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.”

Bentley Weiner is the coordinating producer for the 24/7 series and, without revealing any spoilers, discussed recently what this year’s show uniquely brings to the table.

“I think what’s going to make this installment really extra special is how both of these teams have such rich histories, and they play the game in two places where the game really means so much,” Weiner said.

The 2014 Winter Classic brings the second game between Original Six teams, with the Red Wings’ win against Chicago in 2009 at Wrigley Field being the first. However, with the 24/7 Winter Classic series beginning in 2011, this Original Six matchup will be the first to be covered by HBO.

The show will debut on HBO on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m., and air in that weekly time slot through Jan. 4, 2014 – four shows in total.

These two franchises – division rivals from 1981-1998 – have 24 Stanley Cups between them and over 80 years of history. In the all-time regular season series, Detroit holds a slight 275-273-93-3 edge over the Maple Leafs.

Amidst the city of Detroit’s financial problems, Weiner said Detroit’s rich hockey history will be depicted to show just how much the team has meant to the city.

“Each team is different, but Detroit being Detroit, its team has so much tradition and history,” Weiner said. “Hockey means so much here, and that’s something that… looking around [Joe Louis Arena], all the memorabilia, we’re going to capture all that, you’re going to see all of this history.”

In the process, viewers will be provided with an unprecedented all-access look into the players’ lives and the teams’ daily operations.

“We’ll be fully embedded with the team in December, and that’s when we’ll go everywhere the teams go: on airplanes, buses, team player homes, and that’s when it really gets exciting,” Weiner said. “So far, the cooperation with both organizations has been fantastic. We’re so grateful and thankful that they’ve opened their doors and their locker rooms to us.”

That could certainly seem like an unwelcoming, intrusive presence to some.

President and CEO of Olympia Entertainment Tom Wilson said then-New York Rangers coach John Tortorella – infamous for his cold demeanor toward the media – really grew warm to the idea of 24/7 by the time the show was all over when his club participated for the 2012 Winter Classic.

“John is tough, has his own relationship with the media and probably was not a big fan of the idea,” Wilson said. “And by the time it was over – they played this on the last episode last year – when he was thanking the HBO crew for being there, for being part of the family, for understanding the way things worked, for taking the time and making it available to the general public.”

A big question was how HBO determines who gets the most airtime on the show. But ultimately, that’s determined by the players themselves. It all depends on what happens and that’s what really makes the series exciting.

“The coaches are always the focal point of every show, the star players, the captains, the goalies…you know that they’re going to get some air time,” Weiner said. “What I’ve found in each of our series is that, something happens spontaneously during the series and that’s how our breakout stars emerge.”

In that 2012 edition of 24/7, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov emerged as a star for his eccentric personality, speaking his mind about whatever happened to be on his mind, most notably the “humongous big” universe.

“That came from a conversation I had with him in the hallway when he was getting ready to do an interview,” Weiner said of Bryzgalov’s famous infatuation with the universe. “He said, ‘You know what I was thinking about last night? I was thinking about the universe.’ And when he said that, I said, ‘Get in the chair.”

Wilson reiterated just how exciting of an opportunity this is for not only the Red Wings fans, but also everyone behind the scenes working with the organization.

“We talked about it a lot internally as our folks have worked to try and make this whole thing a success,” Wilson said. “And the one thing we kept saying was, ‘By the time you get one or two episodes into 24/7, you’re going to wish you had an opportunity to be part of this.”

HBO Sports’ “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” featuring the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs airs Saturday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. on HBO. The show will air weekly until the finale on Jan. 4.