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Rangers, Flyers ready for attention of '24/7'

by Dan Rosen
PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Callahan may be the captain of the New York Rangers, but he's willing to cede some of his power to Mike Rupp when it comes to preparing the team for when HBO flips on its cameras and begins to capture the real-life drama of a hockey team in the middle of a season.
"He's been through it," Callahan said Monday from Citizen's Bank Park. "He knows what to expect."
Rupp, like Max Talbot in Philadelphia, was already a character in HBO Sports' Emmy Award-winning "24/7" reality franchise, which returns this season to follow the Rangers and Flyers from early December through the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.
Rupp and Talbot are the only people in their respective organizations that understand what it's like to have a crew following around the team for five weeks, never turning the cameras off as they wait for storylines to develop so they can show them to the world in almost real-time.
"Rupper said you notice them at first, but after a while they do a good job of blending themselves in," Callahan said. "There will be an adjustment period having a camera in your face 24/7, and having to do a little bit more interview-wise, but I think it's great for the fans to see what we're like off the ice and away from the game. I think it's good for the game and to promote the New York Rangers, too."
Last year's documentary series, the network's first foray into the modern-day NHL world, was a rousing hit and captured two Sports Emmy Awards for HBO.
"24/7 was the talk of the sports world," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
It should be again, only "24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the Winter Classic" will feature a new rivalry with a different set of characters, including the larger-than-life Chris Pronger, the surprisingly loquacious Jaromir Jagr and the potentially volatile John Tortorella along with so many others.
The series will debut at 10 p.m. ET on Dec. 14 and run on the subsequent three Wednesdays. The final episode will air Jan. 4.
The first two episodes will introduce you to the two teams and the characters. The third episode will connect the happenings on the ice from the Rangers-Flyers game at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 23 to what's going on a hundred or so miles away in Philadelphia, where the NHL will be in the process of turning Citizens Bank Park into a hockey rink.
HBO Sports Executive Producer Rick Bernstein said having the Rangers and Flyers play in New York shortly before they meet in the Winter Classic is scheduling gold for HBO.
"We want to tell the story of this historic rivalry and these historic franchises and if you only have one game to lead up to to tell that story it kind of holds you back a bit," he said. "Having two cracks at it helps the series a great deal. They were very smart to build that game into the schedule for us."
The fourth episode will focus on the main event, the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Jan. 2.
"You always know going in some of the high-profile characters you are going to follow, but as each week progresses you find there are going to be other storylines and individuals that you didn't anticipate and we roll with the punches on that," Bernstein said. "There are always surprises and it's the surprises that usually make for the best television."
Bernstein said the success of "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" was due in large part to the unfiltered access HBO received from both organizations. He added that the Rangers and Flyers are being just as accommodating.
"We start with a blank canvas and we have no idea of the storylines that will unfold," Bernstein said. "That's what makes it exciting for all of us. Having that access and taking the fan into the locker room, taking them home, this is something I don't think hockey fans had ever seen before -- let alone fans of other sports. When have you ever seen this type of access in the locker room of another sport than what they gave us for 24/7? It was unprecedented."
As we saw last year with Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma and Washington's Bruce Boudreau, for better or worse the coaches become featured characters in the show.
Neither bench boss seems worried about how he'll come across on camera.
"You know what, we're just going to go about our business," Tortorella said. "I'm not afraid of that. I think we do it the right way. I think our organization does it the right way. I think our coaching staff does it the right way. Our focus is trying to win a hockey game. Whatever they come up with as far as the show, we'll see where it goes."
"Watching what HBO did (last year), it really made the NHL look terrific," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "I thought it was a special series so we're looking forward to that, and whether I like to be mic'd or not is irrelevant."
HBO's goal is to make "24/7" attractive for everyone from the hockey diehards to those who wouldn't even recognize a puck. Bernstein, who grew up in Alabama, said he's proof that they met their goal last year with the Penguins and Caps.
"I really was not a hockey fan growing up, but I will say because of 24/7 I did follow the Capitals and Penguins after last year's series," he said. "Now there will be two more franchises that I can follow and feel some attachment to."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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