Beyond the Bison: A True Look inside the NHL

By Julian Dorey

Columnist

The NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day is one of the great recently-consummated American sports traditions.  Something about playing hockey outside—just like the players grew up doing—makes an already high-octane game a little more exciting.

But the annual HBO series “24/7” has taken the buzz about the Classic and hockey itself to a new level.  Starting last season, HBO created the show with the idea that two separate camera crews would follow around the two participating teams until they played in the Classic.  The show takes fans inside an NHL organization and through a day in the life of an NHL player.

The Classic is a great event, but the show does even more for the sport.

It’s no secret that hockey is the fourth most-followed sport out of the four major sports in America.  Some cities, like Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago might disagree, but on a national scale, this is inevitably the case.  I have never really understood why the game doesn’t take more with the casual sports fan, but I feel that with each year of “24/7” gaining more and more viewers, these “casual fans” will soon catch on.

Where else can you see uncut, unedited, raw interaction among a group of sports stars?  The producers of “24/7” have perfected their craft after just two seasons.  They work their way into the locker room in a way that allows players to adapt quickly to their presence and forget about the cameras altogether.

After all, hockey isn’t Hollywood—it’s still a business.

This past year, the NHL held the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, with the Flyers playing their arch rivals the New York Rangers.  The game already had plenty of intensity on tap from the moment the NHL announced it. These teams hate each other.

“24/7” took viewers deep into the innermost parts of the fire behind the rivalry.  Despite the fact that the Classic simply adds up to another regular season game, the series makes it seem like much more.  The players know what’s coming, and with all the hype of an HBO series, they clearly lose sight of the normalcy of the game.

The show also takes the audience into delicate subjects like the harsh realities behind concussions and serious injuries.  The toughness the hockey players show and the pain they so willingly endure never ceases to amaze me.

The camera crews even follow some of the players back to their homes to see how important a topic the Classic is when they leave work.  These segments are some of the most valuable ones, because they remind the viewers that the players are normal people who have to keep their heads on a swivel every time they report for work.

With two years of the series in the books, the audience is only growing.  “24/7” shows sports fans everything they want to see—passion, intensity, and a whole lot of expletives.


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