HBO Skates With NHL Winter Classic

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New York —After making its mark with boxing and
then riding along with Jimmie Johnson as he prepped
for the 2010 Daytona 500, HBO Sports’ acclaimed 24/7
franchise this week will drop onto National Hockey
League ice.

Facing off on Dec. 15 at
10 p.m., Penguins/Capitals:
Road to the NHL Winter Classic
the premium network will
take viewers inside one of the
NHL’s top rivalries and look
at the sport’s biggest stars, as
Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh
Penguins and Alex
Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals
prepare for their outdoor
meeting on New Year’s Day in
the Steel City’s Heinz Stadium,
which will be broadcast
on NBC.

HBO Sports president Ross
Greenburg, in a Dec. 8 interview
in his offices here, called
the four-episode Road to the
Winter Classic
a “hybrid” of
HBO’s 24/7 franchise, which
has won a dozen Sports
Emmy Awards, and its Hard
Knocks series, which tracks
National Football League
training camps.

“There are differences.
We’ve been embedded with both teams leading up to the first telecast. The teams
play 12 games during our series, including one against
each other on Dec. 23 in Washington,” he said. “Unlike
HardKnocks, these are regular-season games, so there
are going to be some real highs and lows and different
emotions coming out of those contests.”

Greenburg noted that HBO
conducted “primary shoots,”
spending four days with each
team, and then was embedded
with the squads on Dec. 5
as part of a 10-day ramp-up to
the first installment.

“We have eight people in
each city, three edit rooms
running non-stop, and we’ll
have tapes going back and
forth to New York hourly as
we get close,” he explained.
“What we’ve seen looks real
good. And the NHL showed
our preview during its Board
of Governors meeting and they
applauded. The league’s really
excited about this.”

What got the executives —
including chief operating officer John Collins, whose
“full-rink press” was instrumental
in establishing this
project, according to Greenburg
— cheering and will engage
viewers is the program’s
fly-on-the-wall perspectives.
Although there will be plenty
of on-ice action, The Road to the Winter Classic is not a
mirror of what NHL fans get to see during TV games window
or at the arena. Greenburg said HBO will put microphones
on players, coaches, general managers and
owners, and is even looking to get the referees into the
audio mix.

“We’re showing practices, the skate-arounds, the getting
up at dawn, the rigors of travel, the unpacking of the
bags,” he said. “All of what it takes for these guys to play
at this incredibly high level.”

Although the cameras will certainly trail the faces
of the league, Crosby and Ovechkin, Greenburg said
that with team sports, the squads take their leadership
cues from the coaches, who become focal point
for telecasts.

“[Capitals coach Bruce] Boudreau is Rex-like,” said
Greenburg, alluding to New York Jets head man Rex
Ryan, who became the star of the network’s Hard Knocks
look at the team this past summer. “[Penguins coach
Dan] Bylsma is more controlled. But off the ice, behind the-
scenes, at team meetings, you’ll see a more flamboyant

The series will also premiere episodes on Wednesday
Dec. 22 and 29 and Jan. 5 in the same time slot. The finale
debuts four days after the Winter Classic, with cameras
tracking all the same-day drama

All told, the four episodes, including immediate repeats
at 11 p.m., are scheduled to have 68 plays on HBO
and HBO2 and will also be available via HBO On Demand.