The fourth and final episode of HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic aired over the weekend (Saturday in the States, Sunday in Canada) as this year’s edition of the miniseries came to an end. I recorded the show and took it in late this afternoon, so I thought I would share some thoughts from the finale:
- Tyler Bozak made a noteworthy appearance for, I believe, the first time all series in this episode. Most of the opening scenes of the show, as you would imagine, focused on his friendship with Phil Kessel. Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Greg Cronin had an interesting quote regarding the Bozak-Kessel partnership:
He gives Phil more confidence on the ice.
- Before this season, I may have dismissed that comment as hogwash, but Bozak has played much better offensively this season, and Kessel never really meshed with Nazem Kadri. I’m not much of a Bozak fan, but I will say their line with James van Riemsdyk does seem more cohesive with Bozak in the middle.
- Fans don’t get to see much of Kessel’s humourous side when he’s standing in front of cameras after a game or practice, but it was on display in this episode. Kessel lives in a posh apartment with his roommate Bozak (who he generously allows to be his co-tenant for no charge), and the HBO cameras followed them around as they gave a tour of the place. After a spirited game of pool, Kessel quipped to the cameramen: “Don’t make us look like idiots.”
- I know the whole warrior mystique surrounding hockey players is a well-worn narrative, but I’m still legitimately surprised when certain events occur. One such event was when Dan Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings took a puck to the bottom lip, splitting it open. He had to get it stitched up, but was soon back on the ice. Oh yeah, did I mention he lost 10 teeth in the injury?
- Apparently the ping-pong battles between Dion Phaneuf and Kessel are famous in the Leafs’ dressing room. I’m starting to wonder if anybody else on the team ever plays. Phaneuf’s wide-ranging emotions are in sharp contrast to Kessel’s laid-back approach. Phaneuf gets the better of Kessel this time around.
- Phaneuf and Kessel are an interesting duo to have as franchise cornerstones. The HBO cameras were there to see Phaneuf sign his new seven-year, $49-million contract with general manager Dave Nonis sitting beside him. Kessel signed a similar eight-year, $64-million pact back on October 1. Phaneuf seems to be well liked in the dressing room, and like Kessel, fans got to see a little more of his personality thanks to the documentary.
- “I didn’t mean to,” Joffrey Lupul says to a Red Wing after crosschecking Patrick Eaves in the neck. The NHL may have bought that defense as well, because Lupul escaped suspension, although a $10,000 fine probably shouldn’t be described as getting off lightly, either.
- Pavel Datsyuk is remarkably strong on his feet. On two separate occasions, a Leaf lined up Datsyuk to body-check him off the puck, but neither attempt was successful. (The two Leafs were Nikolai Kulemin and Phaneuf; neither of whom are lightweights by any stretch.) I haven’t watched too many Red Wings’ games, but Datsyuk really is, by any definition, a complete player. He’s probably right up there with Sidney Crosby in the “best player in the game” conversation.
- John-Michael Liles seems like a wonderful human being. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes right before the Winter Classic game, and took it all in stride. He had a huge grin on his face as he told a cameraman he was getting traded. I sure can’t blame the guy, as he hardly saw any game action with the Leafs this season. Even as Liles was demoted to the minors because of his cap-hit earlier in the year, he seemed to handle everything like a consummate professional. He even shook hands and gave hugs to all the players in the dressing room as he was on his way out. The ‘Canes got a good one, and although he’ll be missed, I’m excited for this next step in his career.
- The episode ends with a brilliantly made montage that would make Tim Thompson from Hockey Night In Canada blush. Well done, HBO.
I know this year’s edition of 24/7 received a lot of grief from many people (including Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports) for failing to live up to its usual high standard, but I quite enjoyed it. Keep in mind, I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and I’ve never seen any more than bits and pieces of earlier seasons, but I have to say I’m a believer in this show. I’m already looking forward to next year.