The overriding theme of two struggling teams battling adversity and trying to find some solid ground to get their seasons going in the right direction was again ever-present in the latest episode of HBO's "24/7: Red Wings-Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" that debuted Saturday night in the United States.
The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played Wednesday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. HBO brought the viewer outside at the end of the near-hour long episode.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was filmed skating on his frozen backyard pond with narrator Liev Schreiber providing the information that it was the first time he had ever skated there.
"This is how we started back home in Sweden," Zetterberg says. "I didn't have a rink until I was 7, so holidays, Christmas or Easter, we did some ice fishing and skated around on lakes. To have a chance to do this as a job over here, to play in the best league in the world, it's special. It's something that when we were younger you wished for and you dreamt about. It's pretty special to live through it."
Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk was captured on camera participating in a Christmas Day tradition of playing an outdoor hockey game with friends and family at a rink not far from his Middletown, N.J. home. His best play was a precise pass to set up his dad, Franz, for a slam-dunk goal.
"It's fun to just get out here, especially when we've been in a rough stretch," van Riemsdyk says, referring to the Maple Leafs' struggles. "Obviously this is where you started playing the game that you love and it's something that we always look forward to every year."
The episode ended with Schreiber narrating over visuals of the ongoing rink build at Michigan Stadium. Dan Craig, the NHL's unofficial ice guru who is officially known as the League's Senior Director of Facilities Operations, is shown shoveling snow off the rink he and his crew are creating for the Winter Classic.
"The open air has no walls," Schreiber says. "No matter where you are the view skyward is identical. No matter who you are the elements are universal. A truth that connects everyone who has ever stepped outside onto a sheet of ice, the reality validates the fantasy that brought them here in the first place."
It hasn't been a fantasy ride for the Red Wings and Maple Leafs this season, but through HBO's lens they have provided some memorable moments for viewers who have never before been taken inside their dressing rooms.
Here are the top five from Part 3 of the "24/7" series:
Huddle up and listen
It was Dec. 20, the day before the Maple Leafs played the Red Wings at Air Canada Centre in a preview of the Winter Classic. The Maple Leafs were finishing their practice when coach Randy Carlyle called them over to tell them what was on his mind less than 24 hours after they defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout for their fourth win in the past 14 games.
HBO had him mic'd up and caught the entire speech.
"All right, faceoffs guys," Carlyle starts. "When we're not having success it's the team's responsibility. It's not just the one guy. I don't see anybody getting [angry] in the faceoff circle. When's the last time somebody cross-checked somebody off a faceoff, across the arm, [angry] that the guy is beating you all night."
Carlyle then looks directly at center Nazem Kadri.
"Nazey, when have you have ever done that," he asks.
Kadri's response is slightly muted, but it sounded as if he said, "Never."
"Start doing it," Carlyle responds. "[Expletive] get mad. Get [expletive angry]. That [expletive] is taking money out of your [expletive] pocket. That's what he's doing.
"So we won a hockey game," the coach continues, changing the subject now. "We feel better. We can breathe. Everybody feels better. Now the key is to follow it up, to follow it up, to build on something. Our focus is the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night, bottom line. Nothing else should be in the way. Nobody says you can't have fun and have a few laughs and whatever, that's what winning is supposed to do, but don't lose sight of the fact we won one hockey game here. We've [expletive] gotta get this thing [expletive] going our way. It's about time we give ourselves a couple Christmas presents."
At home with the Smiths
One of the unique aspects of the "24/7" series is that the viewer occasionally gets to go home with the player. We were taken to Daniel Alfredsson's suburban Detroit home in Part 1. Early in Part 3 we went to the Etobicoke, Ontario home of Deidre and Lester Smith, parents of Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith.
The Red Wings arrived in Toronto to play the Maple Leafs the following night, and Smith went to check in with his mom and dad, who are parents of Boston Bruins forward Reilly Smith and professional lacrosse player Rory Smith.
The best part of the segment is when Deidre and Lester are interviewed and asked what it's like when Brendan's Red Wings play Reilly's Bruins, an event in the Smith household that has happened three times this season.
"When Boston plays Detroit we root for both of them to play well," Lester says.
"But we don't like it when they're against each other," Deidre responds.
"But it's fun," Lester chimes in.
"It's better when they're against other people," Deidre says.
Then you hear a voice from off camera. It's Brendan talking about Reilly.
"He hit me from behind," Brendan says.
"He did hit him from behind, Reilly did, by accident," Mom says laughing.
"Yeah, but Brendan went down like a cheap suit," Dad responds.
The saying is he folded like a cheap suit, but Deidre was laughing hysterically anyway.
Riding the subway to work with Clarkson
Unless you saw David Clarkson on the train or in Union Station in Toronto, without "24/7" you wouldn't know that the forward, who signed a seven-year, $37 million contract during the summer, takes the train to work at least once a week when the Maple Leafs are home.
It showed Clarkson getting on the Toronto Transit Commission train at the Royal York Station. He was by himself, listening to his music, sitting on a crowded train and nobody appeared to recognize him. He carried a cup of coffee while walking through Union Station anonymously.
For Clarkson, though, it appears the ride on the train gives him a chance to avoid traffic and think about what is happening in his hockey life.
So far that life sees him with three goals and five assists in 28 games. He missed the first 10 games of the season serving a suspension for leaving the bench to join an altercation in a preseason game. He was recently suspended two games for an illegal check to the head.
"You have standards for yourself," Clarkson says during the car ride to the train station. "You want to do well, and every year you set goals for yourself individually. Your first goals are as a team to win, but you have individual goals you want to accomplish. Obviously I don't feel like I'm there, and the media here can be people that get on you a little bit."
Another Carlyle dressing-room speech
It was between the first and second periods of the game last Saturday between Detroit and Toronto at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings jumped out to a 3-1 lead and Carlyle was furious.
HBO showed Carlyle's speech after taking the viewer inside the Red Wings dressing room, where they saw coach Mike Babcock talking to his team about how good it was with its structure, patience, play in the neutral zone and down low in the offensive zone.
"We're all frustrated because we can't execute, but in reality what's happening? We're not wining any battles. We're not," Carlyle starts, his voice rising. "We're not playing to a level we're capable of playing. Our compete level is not where it needs to be. And don't look at anybody else, it's not anybody else's fault. It's our fault. We're all in this thing together here. We can't afford a performance like that from an emotional standpoint, from a work-ethic standpoint, from a compete level. We're not competing.
"So what are we going to do? We're going to fold our tent? We're not here to fold our [expletive] tent. We're here to go out and compete and we're not doing a good enough job at it. You know it and I know it. So it's up to us to recover. It's up to us. We need a team effort. We need everybody pushing in the same direction. Play fast, do things hard, and outbattle the guy you're up against. Let's go."
The speech worked. Toronto tied the game 3-3 in the second period and took a 4-3 lead in the third before Detroit tied it late and won it in a shootout.
Water bottle controversy
It started when Bertuzzi noticed Bernier's bottle on the ice and after a whistle decided to shoot the puck at it. He hit the water bottle and sent it flying. Bernier had to go chasing after it.
Clarkson took offense and quickly rushed over to engage Bertuzzi. Their conversation was, well, unique.
Clarkson starts by yelling, "Don't [expletive] hit his bottle!" Bertuzzi responds by saying, "His water bottle is on the [expletive] ground."
There is more give and take before Bertuzzi incredulously tells Clarkson, "Don't worry about a [expletive] water bottle."
"I am worried about a [expletive] water bottle," Clarkson answers. "It's our [expletive] water bottle, don't [expletive] touch it."
Bertuzzi seems to have had enough by this point.
"I'll buy you a new one," he says sarcastically.
"OK, perfect, you buy me one," Clarkson responds.
It didn't end there. There was more conversation about the water bottle after a center-ice faceoff late in the third period.
"What do we need, the bottle police?" Clarkson says after the puck drops.
* HBO confirmed the reports that Toronto is close to re-signing captain Dion Phaneuf to a long-term contract when it showed the viewer a phone conversation between Maple Leafs assistant general manager Claude Loiselle and general manager Dave Nonis.
"Here is an update on negotiations with Dion," Loiselle tells Nonis. "I just got off the phone with his agent. We've agreed on the numbers, salaries and the years. We've agreed on the structure. The only sticking point right now is the no-trade, the limited no-trade. Donny [Meehan] is traveling and will get back to me tomorrow."