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EPIX captures memorable day at NHL Winter Classic

by Dan Rosen

Oftentimes, the personalities and experiences around the game that fans and media don't get to see are the most interesting of all.

That's where EPIX has come in these past four weeks, serving as the window to what is usually an unseen world inside a dressing room before a game, on the ice during a game, at home with the players on off days, in the hotel, on the plane, and everywhere else they go where we don't.

The final episode of "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic" doesn't disappoint in bringing the viewer all of that and more. The questions you might have had once the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was over are answered in the episode.

If you were curious about how the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks got to Nationals Park, what they saw upon arrival on the practice day and New Year's Day, and what they thought of the entire spectacle, the answers are inside the 56-minute, 34-second episode.

Hint: Capitals forward Joel Ward was blown away by the size of the Washington Nationals' clubhouse; Washington captain Alex Ovechkin couldn't stop looking around as he talked to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis about the game being a sellout; Joel Quenneville loves the fresh air, the fans, enthusiasm, hype and the fact that the game is for keeps, for two points.

"It's what it's all about," Quenneville says on the plane ride from Chicago to Washington.

The series finale takes you inside the room and onto the ice where NHL officials, along with Ovechkin and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, decide together that the game should start on time instead of being delayed because of sun.

Hint: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told a group of executives, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, that the plan was to get input from the players,specifically the goalies, after warm-ups. They would tell the League if they could play or if player safety was a concern. If the game had to be delayed, it wouldn't have started until 2:15 p.m. ET.

Toews polled teammates on the ice during warm-ups as the sun blazed down onto the surface. Ovechkin did the same. Eventually they came together along with Commissioner Bettman and other executives along the boards and quickly decided to start on time, but to switch ends 10 minutes into the first period.

"Let's just go," Toews says.

The clubhouses that served as the dressing rooms for the Capitals and Blackhawks are located up a tunnel from the dugouts, nowhere near the center field wall they entered for the pre-game introductions. So how did the players get from the clubhouses to center field on skates?

EPIX has the answer for you in the series finale.

Hint: They were driven in carts, and at one point the Blackhawks passed the Capitals en route to the outfield wall. They naturally had a few chirps for one another, even to one former teammate.

"Nobody likes you over here, Brouwer," Toews says to Capitals forward Troy Brouwer, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010.

How did the players feel when they got through that wall and waited by the replica Capitol Building and eventually on the frozen version of reflecting pools that can be found on the National Mall?

"What a show," Toews says. "This is the [expletive] NHL."

And then there were the single moments that tell you all you need to know about these players, how much they care when they're on the ice and what they're like off of it.

There was the family skate the day before the game, when Ovechkin introduced Washington coach Barry Trotz to his parents and Trotz told Mikhail and Tatyana Ovechkin that it has been a pleasure to work with their son.

There was Trotz on the ice skating with his son Nolan, who has Down Syndrome and has recently started showing an interest in skating.

There was Capitals forward Brooks Laich skating with girlfriend Julianne Hough of "Dancing with the Stars." They did a pirouette together.

There were the Blackhawks skating with the USA Warriors, and Patrick Kane Sr. talking about how there was no place a father would want to be then right there with his son, at Nationals Park, skating on an outdoor NHL rink.

"This is awesome," he says.

There was Ovechkin's scream after he scored his goal in the first period of the game. Electrifying.

There was Ovechkin's reaction when he hit the right post and then the crossbar early in the second period. After wondering aloud what in the world was happening, he has words for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

"You lucky son of a [expletive]," Ovechkin says.

We already knew that the Blackhawks did not agree with the hooking penalty on Toews with 1:13 remaining in regulation, but what did Toews really think?

"I lifted his [expletive] stick," Toews tells referee Francois St. Laurent, who made the call. "That's the worst [expletive] call I've ever seen. I lifted the stick the whole way, no hands, no nothing. Holy [expletive]."

Brouwer scored the winner with 12.9 seconds remaining. Afterwards, in the handshake line, Quenneville asks Brouwer if he was the one to score. Brouwer answers in the affirmative, Quenneville smiles and says something quite suggestive to him, something not fit for print.

Trotz and Quenneville then come together and after one of the most intense games, the veteran coaches show their lighter side.

Trotz comments to Quenneville on his 'F' bombs in the series. Quenneville tries to play it off as though Trotz had more, which simply can't be true. Quenneville then jokes he has to call the cops because the Blackhawks were robbed of at least a point.

"That hurt," Quenneville says as he walked up to the coach's office in the visitor's clubhouse. "I can't believe we couldn't get that [expletive] game to overtime."

Meanwhile on the other side, Trotz is shown sharing a unique victory drink with his coaching staff.

"Winning beats losing," the Capitals coach is heard saying as the cameras pan away.

It seems so obvious, but in a game like the NHL Winter Classic, amid the hype and the spectacle of it all, there might not be a truer statement that anybody can make.

The game counts in the standings and it will forever go down as one of 1,230 regular season games in the 2014-15 NHL season, but for four weeks EPIX has shown through this reality TV series that it means so much more than that to the people directly involved.

They're not characters, they're real. And now we know them better than we ever did before.


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