Scribes can learn from 24/7, too Print
Written by Frank Seravalli   
Thursday, 22 December 2011 09:00

The Philadelphia Flyers' inner sanctum is exposed in HBO's "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic" series. That's enough to leave one NHL insider in awe.

Frank SeravalliNEW YORK – Standing in a vacant ballroom in a Chicago hotel just hours before being inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 12, Flyers chairman Ed Snider was asked about the upcoming premiere of HBO’s “24/7 Road to the Winter Classic” reality series.

Snider paused.

“I’m most excited about seeing the show because I have never seen one of our coaches’ pre-game speeches,” Snider said. “In all of my years as an owner, that’s one thing I have never seen.”

Snider, now 78, said he believes in the “inner sanctum” of a dressing room. That’s why he doesn’t spend much time there.

But if the NHL’s longest-serving governor, and the founder of one of the two franchises involved in Jan. 2nd’s Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park, witnessed something for the first time in HBO’s award-winning show, it's not hard to imagine what kind of mind-blowing impact the four-part series had on casual hockey fans.

Two episodes are now in the books. There is just one episode left to preview the NHL’s signature regular season event. And HBO could probably squeeze out 12 full episodes from all of the behind-the-scenes conversations and secrets they have captured.

Even for me, the HBO cameras have provided a unique insight that never ceases to amaze. For me, that’s almost as strange as watching Snider watching his team. I am around the Flyers every single day throughout the season, on every road trip and every practice, and this show has captured an angle of a hockey team that my eye, voice recorder or words could accurately describe in a newspaper column.

At a certain point in every practice or before every game, the door in the Flyers’ locker room closes to the media. What happens from 90 minutes before every game until 5 minutes after it ends is off limits.

Yes, what makes HBO’s series must-watch television is the unprecedented and unfiltered access that they receive once us media members are told to hit the road. Last year’s test run, which took some convincing of the Capitals and Penguins, was HBO’s credential with the players for that same access. And for the first time since the 1960’s, when players actually enjoyed being the subject of sports columns, making the cut for the show is a competition among the players.

There is nothing fake, phony or contrived about each frame of every episode. It is real. It is emotional. It is groundbreaking.

Hang around a hockey locker room for more than 5 minutes and a few things – the language, the pranks, the jokes – are not a surprise. But even for a seasoned scribe, the “inner sanctum” leaves a lasting impression. It’s not just the glimpses into the lifestyle and family life that do it. At the end of the day, it is still a series that revolves around hockey, and that is not lost.

Like in Wednesday’s second episode, when Flyers coach Peter Laviolette addresses his team after being shellacked by the Bruins, 6-0, at home on Dec. 17. It was their first loss in eight games.

Throughout the game, the microphones were filled with four-letter words that would make a stevedore blush. Everyone was expecting Laviolette to rip into his team post-game, in a way that would keep him in line with his Rangers counterpart. Except it never happened.

Hang around a hockey locker room for more than five minutes and a few things – the language, the pranks, the jokes – are not a surprise.

Knowing that they’re just 31 games into a 7-month march, Laviolette held his tongue. He didn’t chide or single out a player, making him feel like a school-aged kid being ruled by a nun.

“Let it burn,” Laviolette tells his players. “Let it sink in. Feel it deep within you. And take it on the road with you.”

The Flyers did that, following up his words with 3 out of 4 points in contests in Denver and Dallas. They were the kind of soothing words you’d expect to hear more from a high school guidance counselor than a tough-as-sandpaper New Englander.

For this writer, it was a moment of awe. And appreciation. It lets the outsider in on part of the behind-the-scenes life that I get to witness every day. And confirms everything that I love about the sport that I cover.

Frank Seravalli covers the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2011 06:16