TV Review: Road to the NHL Stadium Series – Sharks v. Kings (2015)

Original Run: February, 2015
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This four-part documentary series is a sister program to EPIX’s Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Where the Road to the NHL Winter Classic followed the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals, this documentary series follows the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, who are bitter rivals. The fact that the Sharks and Kings hate each other is what added a bit more credence and excitement to what was at stake in this documentary.

In recent years, the Kings have won two Stanley Cups and a lot of bragging rights. The San Jose Sharks have spent a decade or so as a real contender for the Cup but have fallen just short on a number of occasions. Many times, it has been at the hands of the hated Kings.

This series follows many of the key players on both teams, as well as the coaches and gives an intimate view of the behind the scenes stuff that most fans aren’t privy to. It tells the story, in their words, and is beautifully shot and edited – following the precedent set by the Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

All of this builds up to the big crescendo, which is the Sharks and Kings fighting it out on the ice in a Stadium Series game. For those who don’t know, the Stadium Series is comprised of outdoor hockey games held in massive venues. In this case, they played at Levi Stadium in San Francisco, CA.

If you are a hockey fan or just a fan of sports documentaries, this is a pretty unique series to watch. It plays like a second season of the Road to the NHL Winter Classic but its cast of characters and story is its own. And like its predecessor, you can check it out on Netflix streaming.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

 

TV Review: Road to the NHL Winter Classic – Blackhawks v. Capitals (2014)

Original Run: December, 2014
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

To ring in the most recent Winter Classic event put on by the National Hockey League, EPIX ran a four-part one hour documentary series called Road to the NHL Winter Classic. Unfortunately, I don’t have EPIX but I was able to catch this a few months later, as it is currently streaming on Netflix.

The documentary series follows the two teams involved in the big event: the home team Washington Capitals and the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. It goes through their recent history and chronicles the first few months of their season – leading up to the big event. The fourth and final part of the documentary covers the big game itself, the result of it and a bit of aftermath. It is certainly worth checking out if you are a hockey fan, especially if you are a Capitals or Blackhawks fan.

The series gives a nice look into the personal lives of coaches Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks) and Barry Trotz (Capitals). It also follows a lot of the key players on both sides of the equation. It shows an inside view of both organizations and hockey as a whole. It is nice seeing some of these guys in roles other than just warriors on the ice.

Road to the NHL Winter Classic is well shot, well edited and presented nicely. I actually hope it is the start of more NHL documentary projects. Other sports need to step their game up because NFL Films has been ruling the roost for decades.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

Retro Relapse: My Experience at the 2015 NHL Draft

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2015.

The last few days were spent in Sunrise, Florida. It is only about an hour and twenty minutes away from my house and it is also a place I lived and went to middle school in for two years. My return there wasn’t to reminisce or to track down old friends, I went to where the Florida Panthers play, at the BB&T Center, as that is where this year’s NHL Draft was held.

My Chicago Blackhawks didn’t even have a first round pick but I didn’t care. It wasn’t even about that really. The NHL Draft was this close to my house and I wanted to go for the experience of seeing a professional sports draft, to banter with other fans, to gloat about another Blackhawks championship and to just kick back and hold on to the hockey season for an extra week.

What I got was more than I could ask for.

When I showed up at around 1:30 on Friday afternoon, it had just rained. The FanFest wasn’t yet up and running due to the weather but they got it up pretty fast. There was more for kids than adults but it was still a pretty cool setup. There were games and challenges and other things to occupy your time while waiting for the doors of the arena to open.

The best feature of the FanFest was the giant Coors Light igloo in the middle. I detest that beer but I assumed it would be cold inside. It was. It also had beer that wasn’t Coors Light. Granted, they didn’t have any craft beer because the Galactic Empire doesn’t sell merchandise from the Rebel Alliance but that $14.00 Molson was pretty refreshing in that cold igloo, as the Florida summer weather outside was stifling and awful.

The doors to the Florida Panthers team store opened and I made my way in for what was going to be an autograph signing featuring current Calder Trophy holder Aaron Ekblad, as well as Panthers’ great Bill Lindsay.

While waiting in the autograph line for over an hour, most of the fans crammed in around me were very nice and congratulatory about the Blackhawks and their third Stanley Cup in six years. My jersey was getting the opposite reaction to the one that I expected. It was cool though, because ultimately everyone was just there to have fun. The season is over, no bloodshed was necessary.

I hooked up with a few Edmonton Oilers fans who had flown in to South Florida just to be there when potential future legend Connor McDavid was drafted to their team with the first overall pick. These guys were cheery, happy and ready to party hard. They were also hardcore Canadian hockey fans that Floridians like me never get to spend much time with. Well, at least hardcore Canadian hockey fans closer to my age. Florida gets a lot of those old snowbirds but talking to them is like talking to a room full of Don Cherrys

The line moved forward, I met Bill Lindsay, who was nice and also very complimentary of the Blackhawks. I got his autograph and then moved on to rookie of the year Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad signed a 2015 NHL Draft puck that I bought in the store, shook my hand, posed for a picture, thanked me for being there and gave my Blackhawks the thumbs up as well. He was also sitting with his Calder Trophy, which he was awarded with just two days prior. It was beautiful to see up close.

I then went back outside to wait for the arena doors to open. I spent time with more Oilers fans, some Maple Leafs fans, a small army of Canadiens – who entertained me with a long diatribe about why no other teams beside the Original Six teams will always find themselves at the top of the food chain. I finally got the negative reaction to my Blackhawks jersey that I expected earlier, and of course it was from Boston Bruins fans. Weirdly, even Philadelphia Flyers fans were cool with my presence. They complimented Toews and Kane, I complimented Giroux and talked to them about how I did artwork for Flyers’ legend Bernie Parent.

I hooked up with another group of Edmonton Oilers fans and was astounded by the fact that so many of them traveled so far to be at the NHL Draft. This was the group I hung out with for the rest of the Draft.

We made our way in, we drank craft beer at the Miami Brewing Co. bar. We got pretty inebriated, spent too much on concessions, bought a bunch of crap in the stores and toured the facility. But then I got wind that the Stanley Cup was in the building. A few of the Oilers guys and I hightailed it to section 129 to see the Cup.

We got there, we got close to the front of the line. We waited for some time before Phil Pritchard showed up with his crew, carting in a very large crate. We all knew what was inside. Phil, officially known as “The Keeper of the Cup” put on his patented white gloves to the cheers of hundreds, if not thousands, who were now in line. He reached into the case and lifted out the Stanley Cup.

Being that I am a Blackhawks fan, I felt all Blackhawks fans should’ve got first dibs. We are the champions, mind you. However, the line went in order but it was only about five minutes before I got to stand next to (and lightly touch) the Stanley Cup. I posed for pictures, stared in awe and almost got emotional standing next to the most prized trophy in all of sports. There truly is nothing like the Stanley Cup and to be next to it, just a week after the Chicago Blackhawks lifted it in glory for the third time in six years, was pretty astounding. Seeing my own reflection staring back at me over the names of Blackhawks players and all the other greats who won the Cup was one of the greatest moments of my life. I felt like Samwise Gamgee after the One Ring went into the fires of Mount Doom, knowing that I had been a true companion on the greatest quest ever taken.

My inebriated Edmonton pals and I then made our way to our seats.

The NHL Draft kicked off and it wasn’t much time before the Edmonton Oilers selected Connor McDavid as the number one pick. It was to be expected, as McDavid has been compared to Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby. It is also interesting as McDavid is starting his career in the same place that Gretzky did. Furthermore, the Oilers’ greatest success came with Gretzky as their star and there hasn’t been a whole lot of success since. To many Edmonton fans, including the crew I found myself a part of that night, they see Connor McDavid as a savior. Whether that is true or not, remains to be seen but it will be an interesting story to watch over the upcoming years.

A few of these tough-as-nails Edmonton guys had a tear in their eye. I can’t blame them. Fuck, they love their sport, their team and they really need this. I hope they get back to the glory that has long eluded them.

Also, as expected, the Buffalo Sabres selected Jack Eichel at number two. He would’ve been the first pick in any other NHL Draft. The fact that he was number two, says a lot about McDavid and regardless, this is an amazing draft class that I got to witness, live and in person.

The third pick, Dylan Strome went to the Arizona Coyotes. He’s another kid that probably has nothing but greatness ahead of him.

Pick after pick kept coming. Every time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman came to the podium he was booed harshly, but that is the norm for him. Most people do it because it has become the fashionable thing to do. By around pick twenty, when the booing had mostly subsided, there was this old knucklehead who kept screaming obscenities at him. I asked him why he hated Bettman so much.

He says, “Don’t you fucking watch hockey?”
I said, “Yes.”
“And you have to ask a stupid fucking question like that?”
“I’m just curious as to what specific thing he did that pushed you into hating him.”
“All of it!”
“Well, like what? Like what are the three worst things he’s done in your opinion?”
“What? Are you defending that douchebag?”
“No. I don’t like him all that much either. But you’re really heated, man.”
“Yeah, he sucks!”
“Why?”
“Look at him!”
“So you don’t like how he looks?”
“Look fella, why are you up my fucking ass about this?!”
“Never mind, I just thought you could elaborate.”
“Fuck off! I’m watching the fucking Draft!”

The Florida Panthers picked 11th. After their pick, the arena pretty much cleared out. That’s Florida sports fans for you. Well, the Tampa Bay fans stayed and were still in abundance. They were still waiting for their pick but they stuck around through the entire first round and even came back the next day. So I guess the Lightning fan base is sort of the antithesis to the typical Florida sports fan. Good for them, even though my team just beat them in the Stanley Cup Finals, I respect them and their team. They have a very bright future.

After the first round, I found out that my Edmonton pals were staying at the same hotel as me. One of their girlfriends, who wasn’t drinking much, actually offered to drive me back to the hotel in my car, so I wouldn’t be inconvenienced. We all met up after the first round and partied around the hotel. We then went back to my room, as I was upgraded to a suite due to overbooking, and we partied like rabid sons of bitches.

We all rolled out of bed at 7 a.m. and returned to the BB&T Center for rounds two through seven.

There were a lot less fans on the second day. A lot less press too. These rounds went by super fast and after a few hours, the NHL Draft was over. The day was less eventful than the first but that is probably because we were all hungover and exhausted. I drank a ton of caffeine that morning.

I hugged my Edmonton friends, we parted ways and I hope I get to see them again at a later date. Hopefully during an Oilers-Blackhawks playoff game. Or maybe I’ll make it all the way up to Edmonton one day.

I then got in my car and drove the hour and twenty minutes home. After walking through my front door, I crashed.

It was a great, fun weekend. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Now I have to count down the days of the off season. Hockey can’t get here soon enough.

Retro Relapse: The Modern Hockey Nickname

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

Hockey has been over for a little while now. Granted, for me, it was over when the Chicago Blackhawks lost in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Kings. I’m still pretty sour about it but I know that my team is a budding dynasty and will win several more, assuming they keep their core together over the next few seasons. But whatever, I miss hockey and can’t wait for October to roll around. In order to curb my impatience, I figured I’d write about hockey, even though it is the offseason.

There has been something going on in the modern era of hockey that I find somewhat annoying. It is the modern hockey nickname. Before I get into it though, let me run off some of the badass and creative hockey nicknames belonging to the legends of the past: Bones Bromley, Mario the Magnificent, The Hammer, Mister Zero, The Stratford Streak, Murder Murdoch, The Bulin Wall, The Boogey Man, The Finnish Flash, Mr. Hockey, Cobra, King Kong Korab, Cujo, The Messiah, Boom-Boom, The Puck Goes Inski, Battleship, The Eel, The Rocket, The Russian Rocket, The Pocket Rocket, The Roadrunner, Tiger, Chico, Bugsy, Grapes, Moose, The Rat, Cheesie, Cowboy, The Missing Link, The Flower, Ching, Gump, Jethro, Radar, The Algonquin Enforcer, Captain Crunch, Suitcase Smith, Apple Juice Mott, Le Gros Bill, Gratoony the Loony, The Dominator, The Entertainer, The Chicoutimi Cucumber, The Jet, The Golden Jet, The Golden Brett, Leapin’ Lou, The Big Whistle, Pie, Captain Video, The Eagle, Never Beaton/Seldom Beaton, Lucky Luc, Taz and so many others.

All those names are awesome. The names today are not. Well the vast majority of them anyway. Just on my Blackhawks, I see the nicknames given to these beasts and snipers on the ice and it makes me shake my head. I work in a creative field for a living and what I see here, from those who have coined these modern nicknames, is a severe lack of creativity. Also, they don’t sound menacing or awesome. Nowadays, hockey players are given nicknames that are just their real names simply modified, usually with an “er” or “y” added to it. On the Blackhawks we have Kaner, Toewser (Tazer), Sharpy, Smitty, Crow, Hoss, Duncs, Seabs, Leds, Saader, Shawzer and a few other uninspiring nicknames. Keep in mind this is just on one team. Granted there are still a handful of great nicknames but the rest of the league pretty much follows this lack of creativity.

I blame the announcers and the press. I mean, they’re the ones who usually manufacture the awesome names that we’ve called players since the beginning of time. Are these communications and journalism degree holders not taught creativity anymore? Or are the wrong types of people pursuing these careers. Now I am not knocking their play-by-play, announcing or writing abilities but c’mon, man!

It’s gotten to the point that when I see a new hockey star coming up, I can look at his real name and guess with about 100 percent accuracy what his nickname is going to be. Oh, his name is Doug Jones, how about Jonesy? This kid’s name is Gene Michaels, how about Genie? Hey, what about Drake Thomas, hmmmm… Draker or Tommy? These are all just made-up examples but regardless, this name game has gotten fucking stupid.

I guess some of the blame can be out on the drunken assholes on Twitter who lack the creativity to come up with cool shit. They just start playing the naming game by adding “er” and “y” to everyone with a hashtag and next thing you know, these stupid nicknames are trending. Everyone else in the Twitterverse jumps on the bandwagon and next thing you know, we’ve got another great warrior of the ice with a wimpy name he is certainly not worthy of.

Why can’t Patrick Kane be the Buffalo Soldier since he’s from Buffalo or just something else more creative than Kaner? Toews as Toewser (or Tazer) at least sounds somewhat cool but he could have something better than that too. But Shawzer for Andrew Shaw? C’mon, he deserves the name of a badass beast! Call him something tough like the Belleville Bruiser. And Patrick Sharp should be the Sharpshooter. Maybe some of these names have been used but you can always do variants like all the different “Rockets” and “Jets” that have been in the NHL throughout history.

It kind of mirrors professional wrestling where in the old days you had the Ultimate Warrior, Hercules, the Masked Assassin, the Outlaws, the Blackjacks, the Iron Sheik, Rowdy Roddy, Mr. Wonderful, the Junkyard Dog, Jake the Snake, the Undertaker, Cactus Jack, the Taskmaster, the Barbarian, the Warlord, the Legion of Doom and so many others. Today, wrestlers are named shit like John, Randy, Daniel, Heath, Justin, Evan, Seth, Zack, Jimmy, Dean, Dolph, Adam, Curtis, Bo, Bray, Eric and Luke. Granted all these guys could kick my ass but if someone said to me, “Hey would you rather fight Heath or the Masked Assassin?” Without knowing anything other than their names, I would pick Heath in a heartbeat.

Hockey is a tough as nails sport. It just doesn’t sound as tough today when you got guys nicknamed Seabs and Saader compared to the Cobras, Tigers, Murderers and Boogey Men of the past.

Documentary Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)

Release Date: February 8th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, Robert Miller

ESPN Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This was one on the more recent 30 For 30 films put out by ESPN.

This documentary covered the Soviet Union’s national hockey team during their dominant heyday and showed the famous “Miracle” game from their perspective, which provided a pretty unique take on the event.

Of Miracles and Men starts off by showing us how the Soviets developed their hockey game and the unorthodox approach to coaching that its founder had.

Unable to study the renowned Canadians, who made the sport famous, the Soviets taught themselves how to play from the ground up with no point of reference. Their coach analyzed everything he could outside of hockey and thought of ways to incorporate these things into the Soviet training routine. He took methods from dancing, weightlifting and other places. All of this showed how the Soviets developed such a refined style that was all their own at the time.

The documentary goes on to show the growth of hockey in the U.S.S.R. and how the nation developed immense pride for their athletes and the sport. All of which eventually lead to them playing some exhibition games against Canada.

While looked at as underdogs and not taken seriously, the Soviet team crushed Canada. And then they kept crushing Canada. And then they crushed everyone else, including the United States.

Where here, in America, we are told of the legend of the “Miracle” game from a very pro-American stance. This documentary shows the tale in a much more realistic light and provides the back story in a way that is more fleshed out than any version I’ve ever heard.

In the end, the Soviets weren’t so bloodthirsty about us, as we were of them. In fact, when they lost, they were more upset that they lost and weren’t looking at it as a failed attempt to topple America. In fact, they had toppled us quite a bit before this game and have toppled us after. Truthfully, the Soviets owned America historically. And today, the Russians still regularly kick our ass, even though we have amazing teams year after year.

An example one of the Soviet players gave in the film, is that this is like a fan of Sophia Loren who gets to kiss her. Years later he is still talking about the kiss. However, if you ask Loren about it, she probably doesn’t even remember it.

If anything, this film opens the viewers eyes to the propaganda machine.

In its simplest form, the “Miracle” game was a game played between really young athletes who just wanted to play the game because it was what they enjoyed doing. Athletes who were probably too young or focused on the game, to fully understand what was going on between these two countries politically.

In comparison to other 30 For 30 documentaries, this one fits in the upper echelon in terms of quality. The editing, interviews and narrative were fantastic. I just wish ESPN did more 30 For 30 films on hockey. I think this is only like the third one out of 60 plus films.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Red ArmyMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Book Review: ‘The Game’ by Ken Dryden

*Written in 2015.

This book is considered by most hockey purists to be the greatest hockey book ever written.

Now while I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan, I have always had a respect and love for the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, in my lifetime, I’d love to see a Chicago v. Montreal scenario in the Stanley Cup Finals – especially with the two current teams.

Anyway, this book is an autobiographical tale by legendary Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. It follows him during the 1978-1979 NHL season, which ended up being one of the years that the then dominant Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. In fact, that season was their fourth straight Cup win and their tenth in fifteen years. The Canadiens would win two more (one in the ’80s and one in the ’90s) but they have never had that sort of success since the days of Dryden and that is what makes this an interesting book because it is told from the perspective of greatness, albeit very humble greatness.

The Game is an entertaining read and it is well-written by a man that evolved to be something much more than just a great hockey goalie. Dryden has gone on to be a well-respected lawyer and a prominent Canadian politician. He didn’t just go home with a bunch of championship rings when his playing career was over. These things about Dryden’s character are what make him unique and make his words more than worthwhile to read. You can’t write his words off as just some shoddy life advice through the experiences of some dirty goon.

This book is definitely in the upper echelon of hockey books out there. There are so many that I have read and still many that I should read. The Game is at the top of that heap however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen, Tough Guy: My Life On the Edge by Bob Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day, Made In America by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen, Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk by Doug Feldman, Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams by Mike Babcock and Rick Larsen.