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'24/7' brings fans up close to Rangers and Flyers

by Bob Condor
The HBO series "24/7" returned Wednesday night to begin another four-week immersion with the two teams headed for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. This time it is "24/7 Flyers/Rangers" heading for Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Jan. 2. Fans of last year's "Penguins/Capitals" version will immediately begin comparing and contrasting.

Yes, there is profanity from a coach -- notably from the New York Rangers' John Tortorella -- but in more measured doses than Bruce Boudreau of the Capitals, who inspired bloggers last December to keep a running tab of his four-letter terms. You will likely surmise Tortorella's cursing is more effective, at least from your benchside view, as Tortorella chews out forward Marian Gaborik, who responds by going out to score an important third-period goal in a win.


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Oh, definitely, there are characters emerging from this December's first episode that will make you laugh over the next four weeks. None is more likely to make you snort than 31-year-old Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. It is not a stretch to connect the dots between "Bryz" (as his coach, Peter Laviolette, calls him when announcing the starting lineup to the team) and, say, Robin Williams -- Williams ad-libs his way through life (and movies), and it appears Bryzgalov might just be a similar scene-stealer every time he shows up on "24/7 Flyers-Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic."

Do not let anyone go into detail about Bryzgalov's opening night. His discussion of the universe, galaxies, solar system and earthly problems should not be spoiled by someone else's telling. Get it straight from the funny man, who also details rare Russian liqueurs and the illegality of hunting tigers during a stop in the inner sanctum of the training room.

"His personality is a little bit different," deadpans Laviolette when asked about his goalie, who struggled early in the season but has been stellar in recent weeks.

The episode is far from all ha-ha and light. Early in the hour New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto crashes into the end boards, turning his head at the last moment so that his shoulder takes blow. Del Zotto is mic'd up so viewers hear everything the young defenseman says. The soundtrack is riveting and chilling and surprising all at once, perhaps most of all because it is honest processing of what Del Zotto imagined might have occurred if he went head-first.

"I am a 21-year-old who feels like a 61-year-old man today," Del Zotto says as HBO catches it on camera during a solo drive up to the team's practice facility in Westchester County the next morning. But Del Zotto is still feeling lucky, he says.

On the Flyers side, there is less luck. Before last Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, Claude Giroux was the team's leading scorer and budding superstar playing on a high-octane line with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell. But after the second period, after being accidentally kneed in the head by teammate Wayne Simmonds, Giroux was held from the game following steps of the NHL's head injury protocol. By Tuesday, Giroux was announced as having suffered a concussion -- and is out indefinitely.

"24/7" viewers are privy to what happened from the moment Simmonds collides with "G" (as his teammates call Giroux) through the next morning in the training room through Laviolette discussing how the team will have to fare without its leading scorer as the Flyers take a train to Washington for a game Tuesday night.

There are lots of other must-see moments in Wednesday's first episode:

One example: Ryan Callahan drawing a disputed penalty then scoring a big goal for the Rangers against Buffalo, 70 miles from his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., with more than a dozen family members on hand. There's a memorable exchange with his 95-year-old grandmother after the win.

Others: The ritual of how a big group of Rangers decide which players are stuck with the dinner bill when dining out on the road. … Jagr using some sort of power tool to sand down his stick blades and telling the HBO cameras "I never thought I was going to like it so much" in Philadelphia. … The Flyers mugging to rapper Mac Miller's song "Knock Knock" after every victory.

Maybe best of all, we as viewers sit all alone with New York's young forward Artem Anisimov in the locker room as he waits for his teammates to return. Anisimov scored an important shorthanded goal last Thursday, but his goal celebration (using his stick as a rifle by holding it on the blade and "shooting" at the Tampa Bay goal) caused a fracas that resulted in lots of penalties, including 16 minutes for Anisimov. The first Ranger back in the locker room as the second period ends is Sean Avery, who only smiles. Other teammates have cutting remarks but everyone is sort of chuckling, having fun, not taking themselves too seriously.

HBO's "24/7" puts you right in the middle of it, and that's the whole idea.

Other HBO play dates for the first episode include Thursday at 5:45 p.m. and midnight; Friday at 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.; Saturday at 10 a.m. and 10:45 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. and Monday 6:30 p.m.

The second episode of "24/7: Flyers/Rangers" debuts Wed., Dec. 21 at 10 p.m. ET.
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