With an opening montage showing sandy beaches, palm trees, surfers and skateboarders, the first episode of "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Stadium Series" instantly takes the viewer to California to set the scene for an introduction to a rivalry that is as hot now as it ever has been.
Away from the sand and surf are two teams, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, which will be featured in the four-part series prior to taking their rivalry outside, to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 21 for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game.
The first episode of the four-part series opens with behind-the-scenes, on-the-ice, and on-the-bench footage of the last game the two rivals will play before they take it outdoors under the Northern California sky.
The Sharks defeated the Kings 4-2 at SAP Center on Jan. 21 in what was fittingly part of NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry series. EPIX had cameras all over SAP Center to prove how deep-rooted the rivalry between the teams is.
EPIX 'ROAD TO THE NHL STADIUM SERIES'
"When it comes to hockey we don't like each other," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty says. "We want bragging rights."
EPIX brilliantly shows Kings forward Justin Williams chirping Sharks center Logan Couture, and casts a spotlight on Kings coach Darryl Sutter. With Sutter wearing a microphone, the viewer is able to not only see but hear how he coaches his team, and how hard he can be on them.
Sutter repeatedly tells his players to check harder and to start competing during the game. Like most NHL coaches that have been featured on all-access shows, curse words flow out of Sutter's mouth at a rate commensurate with his intensity level.
"Hey you guys, start checking," Sutter said during the first intermission, when the Sharks had a 1-0 lead. "We lost the period not because they beat us 1-0 in the first period, we lost the period because they kicked the [expletive] out of us physically."
Following the game, the scene turns to a happier dressing room, where the viewer is introduced to Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, one of the truly unique characters in the NHL. It's clear right away that Burns is going to be a main character in the four-part series.
The cameras follow Burns as he's leaving SAP Center following the win against the Kings. He's driving a giant Mercedes van and signs autographs on his way out. He's on his way to the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, where EPIX is able to take Burns away from the ice to show what he is as a family man and an animal lover.
The cameras follow Burns, his wife Susan and kids Peyton and Jagger, to the Columbus Zoo, where they play with ferocious cats and penguins. Burns has his mini zoo at home complete with snakes and other reptiles, birds, frogs and a fishpond.
"I would love to have a big guerilla or lion, but the wife kiboshes that," Burns says.
All-Star Weekend is also where EPIX introduces Chris Sutter. Coach Sutter’s son has Down Syndrome, but his courage was on full display in Columbus, where he is shown talking with Blackhawks stars Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane, shaking hands with players in the dressing room, and delivering a memorable speech to Team Foligno prior to the 2015 Honda NHL Skills Competition.
"Guys, have fun out there," Sutter tells the team. "Today is your night, go out there and kick their butts."
Chris is later shown being introduced to Maria Shriver at Staples Center. The journalist and former first lady of California invites a stunned Sutter and his dad to be involved in the Special Olympics' World Games that will be in L.A. this coming summer.
All-Star Weekend also gave the players who weren't in Columbus a chance to get away. Six-time NHL all-star Joe Thornton went to Cabo San Lucas with his family and some friends. EPIX went with him, and was on the boat that he chartered for a fishing trip in the ocean.
"I'll take any break they'll give me," Thornton says.
EPIX didn't avoid the controversial topic with Thornton, tackling the captaincy he had stripped from him this summer.
"It's not an indictment or a reflection on Joe Thornton," Sharks coach Todd McLellan says. "We're in an organization that is in transition somewhat. This is about opening it up so others can grow and accept new roles and take it from there."
Thornton seemed evasive.
"I just love playing the games. I just love the camaraderie," he said. "For me it's just whoever comes here you have to make them feel wanted and that's what I try to do, but at the end of the day you've still gotta hold guys accountable every day and make sure it's going in the right direction."
The underlying theme of the first episode is the direction the teams are going.
The Sharks are shown surging with wins against the Kings, Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks; the Kings are shown to be searching with losses to the Sharks and Boston Bruins sandwiched around a win against the Blackhawks.
Kings defenseman Matt Greene is shown urging his team on before a game, saying they have been average for too long. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic talks about how the Sharks are OK with their position as the second-place team in the Pacific Division.
Sutter implores his team to have an identity; McLellan commends his team for sticking to what they're good at.
The series will continue next week as the Kings continue their road trip in Washington, complete with a visit to the White House, before going to Florida for games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sharks head north to play the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks following their 13-round shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.
All the while the NHL will be turning the home of the San Francisco 49ers into a hockey rink that will play host to one of the best and fiercest rivalries in the League. No amount of sand, surf or palm trees can ease the tension when the Sharks and Kings get together.
The first 15 minutes of episode one gave the viewer a sense of what it's all about. The rest of the show opened the door to the characters that will be displayed for the rest of the series.