On New Year's Day 2011, two of the National Hockey League’s premier teams - the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals - faced off in the open air of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 4th annual NHL Winter Classic, a once-a-year extravaganza that brings stadium-sized audiences, and millions of TV viewers, into the fast-and-furious realm of pro hockey.
Get the inside scoop on all the pre-game preparations - as well as behind-the-scenes footage from both the Winter Classic and a December 23 regular-season preview between the two teams - on a brand-new, four-part 24/7 exclusive.
HBO's 24/7 series offers viewers an all-access look at an important sports event. Whether it's a big race, a big fight, or a big game, the cameras are there recording every minute leading up to the big day. They couldn't have asked for a better story with the lead-up to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. Two players that both went number 1 overall in the NHL draft, that play for division rivals, and have been pitted against each other throughout their careers. Rival teams, one that's on a winning streak, while the other can't catch a break to stop their skid. A single game played outdoors in front of 68,000 fans. Welcome to 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic.
I've been a life-long hockey fan, thanks to growing up and living in Canada. While I didn't play the sport, I've certainly enjoyed watching it on TV, so it's a bit surprising that I didn't watch this series when it first aired. I managed to catch the beginning of the first episode when it was being rebroadcast, and I was immediately glued to the TV. The show is so good that my wife, who doesn't enjoy watching hockey at all, sat and watched the entire episode as well, and then asked me to record the rest. HBO, you did the unimaginable - you got my wife to watch hockey (well, a documentary about hockey).
This single-disc release includes all 4 episodes of the series:
Disc 1 (3:45:06)
Part 1 (57:13)
Part 2 (57:00)
Part 3 (57:13)
Part 4 (53:40)
I watched the show in HD when it was being rebroadcast, and it looked absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately this is only available on DVD. My initial reaction to the first few minutes of the first episode was "ewww!!!" There were lots of compression issues, which really surprised me, but thankfully that didn't continue throughout the series. The rest of the series looked really good; there was some edge enhancement here and there, and I only noticed a handful of compression artifacts. The colors looked great, and I absolutely loved the cinematic look of the series. There's a "play all" on the disc, but HBO hasn't set a chapter after the opening of the episodes.
There's just an English Stereo track on the set, and while Dolby Digital 5.1 is usually what everyone wants to see on the back of the box, I think the stereo track is a good choice for this. This is a documentary, not a sci-fi or drama series. The audio track is great; nearly everyone is easy to understand, and burned-in subtitles pop up when it's hard to hear what's said (either because the person is speaking quietly, or there's a thick accent). There are optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish.
I'm disappointed that there aren't any extras on this set at all. They could have included deleted material (which there would be TONS of), or stats on some of the players (up to the Winter Classic). There was no effort put forth here at all.
It's amazing how much has changed since the Winter Classic was played on New Years Day. Sidney Crosby, who suffered a hit to the head in this game, would receive a bigger hit the next game and miss the rest of the season, and the first quarter of the 2011-2012 season. Bruce Bourdreau, the coach of the Washington Capitals was recently fired, a move foreshadowed a number of times in this series. Don't feel bad for him though, as he landed a job as the coach of the Anaheim Ducks a few days later (you can feel sorry for Randy Carlyle, the Anaheim coach who was fired and doesn't have a job yet). Some of the players have changed as well, but you'll still find Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby leading their teams.
If you haven't seen this series, and you have any interest in hockey, definitely pick it up. The lack of bonus material is definitely frustrating, but I'm guessing they didn't have much room on the disc, and didn't want to push it to two discs, which would have added to the cost. At a street price of $16, this would be a great stocking stuffer for a hockey fan.