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Maple Leafs adjust to life in front of the cameras

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO -- When the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC), it will be a warm-up act for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1.

Part of that process leading up to the Winter Classic for each team is to be a part of HBO’s "24/7" documentary series. That means having cameras following them around to practices, meetings, games, even their home life.

For Maple Leafs players and the coaches, it calls for an adjustment to their normal routines.


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"It's unusual," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's not normal what we're living right now. I've talked about white noise and I've talked about distraction and this is just another one for us. It's hard in some ways to blame people for not paying attention to it or not being attached to it, but on the other hand we have a job to do.”

The HBO cameras started following the Maple Leafs on Dec. 4. Since then, they have gone 4-5-0.

"I would just say the first couple days you thought about it, then you get used to the guys," Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "They're pretty good at hiding and staying in the background. They're doing a great job."

The presence of the cameras and the HBO crews is a hot topic for players and coaches alike.

"I think it's honestly worse for the coaches," Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer said. "For us we just kind of do what we normally do. I don't think it does disrupt too much, but I think when you're talking and giving the team whatever, if it's a pump-up message or just talking about the game and having the camera right in your kitchen, I think it's honestly more awkward and harder for them than it is for us. I know that if I had to talk to a team with a camera in my face that would be more distracting. Honestly I think they get the worst of it."

The first episode of "24/7" premiered Dec. 14 and featured action from both teams on and off the ice, parts of it more flattering for some than others. Some players had to check it out to see how they were portrayed.

"I actually caught a glimpse of it two nights ago," Gunnarsson said. "I didn't see the whole thing. I saw parts of it. They're doing a good job show-wise. They know how to make it look good."

"I thought it was good," Reimer said. "I thought it was really good. I think they've always done a really good job. I think it's great for fans and even me, I remember watching some of the other ones they did with other teams. And it's just really cool to get that perspective from in the room and around the game. I think it's great what they do."

Having professionals film their everyday goings on isn't always appealing for those involved.

"It's just not normal for us. We've never had to do that," Carlyle said. "There is some adjustments and these people, as I said, they're not trying to be in your face and they respect your privacy when you ask for it at times. But again, it's just not normal. It's not a normal, every-day thing that we're accustomed to and it does take some getting used to."

With the buzz about the Winter Classic building, staying focused on the game at hand can be difficult.

"I think right now as a team we need those wins and [Thursday] was a really big win for our confidence," Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier said of a 2-1 shootout win against the Phoenix Coyotes. "We can be happy but not satisfied because we haven't won too many games lately, so definitely, I don't think we're focusing on the Winter Classic as a group, we're focusing on [the game Saturday] with Detroit and not the Winter Classic."

The Maple Leafs and Red Wings are divisional rivals this season for the first time since 1997-98 and face each other for the first time this season Saturday. Having that game to set up the Winter Classic works out well for the teams and the cameramen.

"I don't know if you ever look forward to seeing a team come in here but it sure is something special this year with the Winter Classic coming up," Gunnarsson said. "We just want to make a stand here [Saturday]. It'll be a fun night."

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