Gordie Howe once explained, "All hockey players are bilingual. They know English and profanity." HBO's new entry in its 24/7 franchise, which follows the Penguins and the Capitals leading up to their Jan. 1 meeting in the NHL's Winter Classic, backs that up.
Taking a page from its documentary football series, Hard Knocks, HBO has turned its cameras on two of the NHL's most influential clubs, each boasting an A-lister: Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin in Washington. But just as Hard Knocks has been hijacked in the past by unlikely scene stealers (see: Todd Heap, Martellus Bennett, Tank Johnson), the Dec. 15 premier of 24/7 belonged to Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, a rotund bench boss with a mouth as colorful as a rainbow, both for his blue language and the unidentified (barbecue?) sauce on his face during one interview. Boudreau's coup de grâce, a tirade following a loss to the Panthers in which he dropped some 15 f bombs in the span of one minute (a sample: "If you want it, don't just think you want it; go out and f------ want it"), made Jets coach Rex Ryan look like Justin Bieber. By pairing Boudreau with a legion of slumping Capitals and juxtaposing them all with the Penguins' merry pranksters (who rode a 12-game winning streak into episode 1), HBO unveils a side of the league that most fans rarely get to see and a personality that the sport lately has seemed to lack.
In the bigger picture the show stands as a testament to the NHL's marketing savvy, in that the league has been able to find fun in a relatively insignificant game that will be played outdoors at Heinz Field on a day once devoted exclusively to college football. In just four years the Winter Classic has evolved into a more spectacular midseason event than the All-Star Game. Even in its gimmicks it has brought drama—once reserved for spring playoff battles—into January.