Home > Commentary > 24/7 Flyers Rangers – Road to the 2012 Winter Classic

24/7 Flyers Rangers – Road to the 2012 Winter Classic

I just finished watching the first episode of HBO’s presentation of 24/7. It is fantastic! If you are a hockey fan (dare I even say a sports fan!), you need to watch this documentary. HBO has done a wonderful job at capturing the essence of what it’s like to be a hockey player. It also gives the viewer great flavor for the sport of hockey.

Current, exciting, vivid, this documentary has it all. I have attached a copy of the link for your viewing pleasure. Please note, depending on your internet speed, this video will take a while to load. But please believe me when I tell you it is worth it!


As a quick aside, I found an interesting article written by Myles McNutt, which I quote in part below. I think his article is interesting for two reasons. One, Mr. McNutt brings up the fact that hockey is largely ignored in America. A point that my colleague Jason and I have been saying for some time now. My goal and wish is that by writing and posting on this blog, we the writer convey to you the reader (and hopefully to our larger audience), that hockey is truly a great sport. That while not perfect (no sport is), hockey can be fun and as exciting as any other sport that currently exists.

Secondly, because the word “concussion” is being uttered in every other sentence on coverage of the NHL recently, I thought Mr. McNutt makes some interesting comments regarding “violence” in the NHL.

However, I do want to address what feels like a broader concern, one that has to do with the series’ interest in hockey as a sport. 24/7 exists, after all, in an effort to sell America on a product they have generally not been buying, on creating the sense that there is a history of hockey in this country despite what the vast majority of Americans might believe. They can talk about the Original Six, and they can position these two teams as bitter rivals on the level of rivalries in other sports, but at the end of the day hockey is not seen as an American pastime. The Rangers and the Flyers were picked for the upcoming Winter Classic because they’re large market teams who can draw a large urban audience, extensive media coverage, and maybe catch enough eyeballs around the country that Commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t have to swallow yet another fair-weather American franchise hopping back north across the border to my beloved Canada (as we saw with the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba before the beginning of this season).

As with last year, the NHL is being sold based on its grueling schedule, its unpredictability, and its — and I am quoting here —“ubiquitous brutality” within the special, and I can’t say I’m particularly surprised. However, that final point feels particularly at odds with broader narratives surrounding the NHL. As someone who doesn’t quite have time to watch a lot of hockey but finds himself filtering through news reports on a weekly basis, the story in hockey right now are the consequences of that “ubiquitous brutality.” The NHL is cracking down on illegal hits, with Brendan Shanahan — taking time off from his cameo appearances as a cardboard cutout on NBC’s Up All Night — becoming highly visible in his role as Senior Vice President, Player Safety and Hockey Operations, while laying out a wide range of suspensions. At the same time, as 24/7 referenced in passing as the Flyers battled with the Penguins during tonight’s premiere, Sidney Crosby just this week came back off the ice with concussion symptoms after recently returning following months of recovery from concussion incidents that, coincidentally, stem in part from last year’s Winter Classic.

Going into tonight’s episode, I wondered how they were going to handle these issues, and they certainly had plenty of opportunities to answer this question. A brutal hit in the first game from Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to open the door for a conversation — the hit, though, was perfectly clean — and then talk of Chris Pronger’s concussion woes felt like another potential point of entry. In both cases, no larger conversation was broached. Similarly, while Claude Giroux’s concussion that ends the episode on a cliffhanger was a product of a collision with a teammate, and not an illegal hit, there is still no attempt to draw a larger narrative of what is happening in the league right now, even with the reference to Crosby (which here functions more as a point of information, potentially for those who watched last season, more than any sort of narrative).

What’s interesting about all of this is that the NHL is presenting themselves as proactive in this matter, suspending players and even posting online videos to explain the suspension to help spread awareness of the increased efforts to cut down on dangerous hits, and yet this glossy sales pitch for the “reality” of hockey is still valorizing the violence at the heart of the game. I’m not suggesting that the series needs to vilify that violence, or that violence doesn’t belong in the sport, but it feels as though given the current tenor of conversation some of 24/7’s aims feel as though they don’t quite jibe with the NHL’s public stance on the issue.

It simply feels as though the media coverage of hockey right now – like this Grantland piece, for example – is more centered than ever before on the physical consequences of the game’s violence, and to watch a documentary operating within that space skirt past those issues becomes problematic if not unexpected. I don’t expect this NHL-co-produced documentary to start becoming critical of the league for glorifying violence, nor do I necessarily think they are glorifying violence (although, technically speaking, I’m not exactly a huge proponent of fighting’s place in hockey, if we want to get down to my personal opinion). But just a few weeks after the New York Times’ piece about the life and death of Derek Boogaard, which is actually part of a series of tragic deaths of NHL enforcers that have been linked to long-term ailments suffered during their careers, there’s something odd about seeing these issues glossed over, like when a kid asked a Ranger player “why do you fight in hockey” and it was elided with a chuckle — it may not be the story this documentary series intends to tell, but it nonetheless hangs over the proceedings, and is something I’m curious to see them grapple with as Giroux works to recover in the weeks ahead and as we’ll no doubt see more fights break out.

None of this is new, of course — like with other professional sports, you take the good with the bad, and come to accept certain realities. Within the context of “Part One,” Giroux’s injury is a narrative speed bump rather than part of a broader league-wide narrative, and the editors have done a fine job of building suspense for how the Flyers will battle on without him. The editors, just like the players on the ice who deliver these hits or get into those fights, are doing the job they were paid to do, and in this case that’s to make the NHL seem like a compelling, affective, exciting sport played by real people with real stories.

As with last season, this remains a job that they do very well, if a job that may not provide a full picture of the discourse surrounding the league at this moment, and I remain very excited to follow those stories as the four-episode season continues in the weeks ahead.”

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