“Get that camera out of here.”
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, he of the self-acknowledged “volatile personality,” knows there will be a time when he turns to a Home Box Office employee and, presumably curtly, utters the directive.
It’s a compelling dynamic. Coaches want the whiteboard doodles and the intermission cuss-outs and the lower-body injuries confined within the dressing room; fans of the infotainment age want to know and see all.
And one of the tasks of HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic – the third installment of which will air in Canada starting Sunday – is to deliver those player-coach moments, tender and torrid, all but invisible under the usual (and, full disclosure, usually boring) NHL-regulated coach-media engagements.
So we asked the guinea pigs what Toronto’s Carlyle and Detroit’s Mike Babcock, who is wary of embarrassing one of his players, are in for as they get the Boardwalk Empire treatment.
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and then Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau (who has since supplanted Carlyle in Anaheim) were the first two bench bosses to star in 24/7, as build-up for the 2011 Winter Classic, best known (unfortunately) for Sidney Crosby’s concussion. And neither one has a negative thing to say about the experience.
“They’re very good at what they do. So after that first show came out, you kind of let your breath out and you realized that it wasn’t going to be hiding behind corners and catching quiet conversations that are exposing you,” Byslma says. “They’re not trying to get the warts on your face and make a bad story of the team and the players and the situation.”
Warts? No. Cold sores? Well, that’s another story.
While fans originally tuned into Season 1 of 24/7 to gorge on the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry, the affable Boudreau, much like Season 2’s Ilya Bryzgalov, broke out as an unexpected scene stealer. There was his epic F-bomb-peppered pep talk during the Caps’ made-for-TV losing streak, the off-ice bonding with his sons (his personal favourite segment), and of course the infamous “barbecue sauce” interview.
But it’s just a myth that Boudreau got mic’d up after lunch and the camera crew failed to hand the man a wet nap.
“That’s what people from a different town would want to say,” Boudreau explains, setting the record straight. “It was eczema. It looked like sauce, but my whole bottom lip was like a big cold sore.”
Boudreau still reminisces about the rainy New Year’s Day game and the miniseries leading up to it. He was fascinated to learn how HBO films and cuts the show and found the crew respectful in their approach. Plus, his Q rating went through the roof.
“It wasn’t because of the F-bombs, but I could tell a lot of people watched the show,” he says. “I was more recognizable to the average person on the street. They knew who I was.”
Boudreau and Bylsma were themselves while cameras rolled; that’s what made them both so appealing.
“There’s (no reason to be) really uptight and not too concerned about hiding something or getting exposed by the cameras and crew,” Bylsma says. “Frankly, I’m looking forward to seeing both teams, both (sets of) players and both coaches leading up to this Winter Classic at the Big House.”
Ah, the players.
One of Boudreau’s former charges, Capitals centre Brooks Laich, told Sportsnet the players, especially the stars who log more time on-camera, should be compensated financially for their participation in 24/7.
We tell Boudreau this, and there is a fondness in his voice as he chuckles and sighs: “Brooksie…
“Listen. Everybody’s got their own ideas. I just think it’s great for the exposure of the game. We all know how good hockey’s been to us. I just love the fact that it’s growing, and more people are getting exposed to it. Both 24/7 and the Winter Classic, to me, are a great reward,” Boudreau says. “I’m happy that it makes more people follow hockey.”
So, you didn’t find it an inconvenience as you were trying to win hockey games?
“No. Jesus. We’re playing hockey and coaching hockey for a living. We’ve been wanting to do this since we were two. Giving back to help the game grow is great.”
(with files from Chris Johnston)