Behind the Hockey Diaries: Part 3

Braden Holtby (photo courtesy of Gemma Hooley / Chris Nelson)

After the jump, the conclusion of our conversation with Gemma Hooley and Chris Nelson, the minds behind "Hockey Diaries" as they talk about HBO, their favorite moments and what's surprised them the most throughout this project.

Japers' Rink: There's a point in "Change the Game" where Hendricks is talking to you about the cameras for HBO's 24/7 being intrusive during a particularly tough stretch for the team. It was an interesting contrast to hear him kind of reveal to you what he didn’t want to reveal to them - that maybe he would have called specific guys out, that kind of thing. During the few weeks that the HBO cameras were around did the room feel different at all, were the responses to your questions and on the diaries different or was it pretty much the same and there were just more people in the room?

Chris: I think it was actually very much the same. If there was any difference it was just related to how the team was playing at the time the crew was there and not because the crew was there. I don't think it had a big element to how the team reacted to the media - after the first couple of days they were just kind of there and no one payed that much attention to them.

Gemma: We would've loved to have been in the locker room at the times where HBO was there and no one else was allowed. It would have been fascinating to observe that dynamic firsthand. We know we're not HBO, but our nerdy dream scenario would have been to document HBO documenting the team. But when they were in the room and everyone else was in the room, it was just like having another TV crew - I would have loved to see the impact they had when no one else was there.

Two players per season over 82+ games a year, spanning something like 200 days…the number of hours of audio you collect must be insane. Do you have a ballpark estimate of how much audio you gathered? One hour of the final product has to be such a small percentage of everything you collect.

CN: I don't think we could really estimate a number because it just would make us cry if we actually calculate it. But yeah, you consider we have the diary entries, and one or both of us attend most of the practices at Kettler, we're at just about every home game, the occasional road game, media events, etc. And then we'll also go through play-by-play of every game that's important to the story and go through the radio calls, the TV calls, it's actually a pretty vast library - many, many hard drives full every season of sound as well as pictures and video.

But it's certainly hundreds of hours of material, and we sit down and weed it out as we go and isolate the parts that are the best and say "okay, we're really in love with every one of these things, this is what we're going to build the story around". And then we'll go through that audio, which is usually about four or five hours - and at that point it's like picking your favorite child, figuring out what you're going to keep. Four of the five things you like you're going to have to omit based on the format.

Any good stories you’d be willing to share that didn’t make the cut, or is there a kind of documentarian-player confidentiality, what goes on the cutting room floor stays on the cutting room floor?

CN: A lot of the things that didn't make the piece will trickle out over the next few weeks, so we'll be tweeting and putting on our tumblr the little nuggets that were close to making the piece but didn't quite make it. Often those are extended versions of things that did make it; for example there's an extended version of Hendricks going around the room and giving his pump-up review before each game, so we might put that out there. 

GH: Maybe some of the Braden diaries - he got into some funny situations driving home. And we spoke to Matt Hendricks' dad the morning of the Winter Classic, we did a really interesting 10-15 minute video with him at Consol Energy Center and talked a lot about what Matt was like when he was little, how headstrong he was, pep talks his dad had to give him when he was little, that sort of thing.

The timing of this is always a little tricky because we don't want to dwell on last season any more than the team does at this point but there is this material that we have and we want to get it out there.

CN: I think the material we'll put out will have less to do specifically with the games of last season and more about the personality of the player and things we think are just so cool that they're worth putting out there.

Do you have any favorite moments, either from Change the Game or any of the three?

CN: It's hard, I think we were quite fond of most of it because every single thing that made the piece was probably a winner of a cluster of five other things that didn't make the piece. But we do like to try and find creative ways to paint pictures of things so one of the things we liked was what we affectionately call the "Bus-y" story with Matt Hendricks at the back of the bus after the Tampa Bay game, told through three fabulous storytellers in Mike Vogel, Nate Ewell and Brett Leonhardt. So we liked being able to piece their versions of the story together into a sort of miniature collage.

And we thought it would be fun this year to let listeners hear what an NHL conference call sounds like, even if it was just for a few seconds. We thought that's just something else that from a fan perspective or from an outsider perspective they have no idea what that's like - anything that adds color.

GH: We admire all these players for saying yes to these projects, they have a lot of media obligations and a lot of demands on their time. And we understand the culture of secrecy and are very grateful to them for saying yes. And the same with the people we work with in the media - we try to show that we are pulling our weight in the room as part of the media group by asking questions everyone can benefit from or contributing to general discussions, but at the same time we're more interested than anyone else in documenting the asking of questions rather than being the askers ourselves.

We've also been grateful to get to know these guys who cover the Caps every day and are grateful that they, as well, understand what we're trying to do and recognize that it's different from what they do and are always willing to let us be around them and the work they're doing with the players. Lots of different relationships and dynamics in the room and we're just very grateful that this group of media and this group of players and coaches and management have found a way to let our project get folded into what everyone else is doing.

After spending as much time as you have with these guys as well as their families, teammates, coaches, even some of the fans, has there been anything that's surprised you about the players themselves and the world in which they live?

GH: I remember when we started doing this being really naively surprised at how they play through injury. I wasn't prepared, I don't think, for seeing what the locker room looks like, especially early in the season when they're less worried about revealing their injuries - seeing the ice bags all over people and the blood. And when you look down, we do this all the time, we look down at a player if he's giving an interview barefoot because they've just taken their skates off in the media scrum, we always look at their feet...and it's pretty horrific. They battle with a lot of pain and I honestly don't know how they keep it up for 82 games plus the playoffs. To me that was the most surprising thing, just learning what they played through.

CN: Brooks injured his ankle when we were following him and I remember he came out after having an X-ray that showed that his ankle had been fractured, and he came out and talked to us anyway. That's tough. And these guys play through everything - when they don't play you realize something's wrong because they play through so much.

GH: Seeing Belanger the morning after all those teeth got knocked out, I forget now if it was 8 or 9 teeth that were just obliterated and he was out there doing media the next day.

Also the fan aspect - I've never been a fan of a sport but it was very interesting watching the fan-player dynamic and seeing how much is expected of them in return for the lives that they live and the privileges that they've worked for and the world that they operate in, just a lot of expectation from the fan perspective. It's pretty relentless.

CN: Yeah, in general the expectations of a player. Not knowing anything about professional athletes before starting this project, it really seemed like this glamorous, great thing. You have a morning skate for an hour and then you have the whole day off and then go play, which sounds great, but in reality it's a 24-7 job. Even a quote-unquote "day off" is never a day off for these players.

GH: Especially as the season wears on and they get injured. This past sason [Hendricks] played more games than he's ever played, he's had some bad luck with injuries but he played [77] games this year which is the most he's ever played at any level in his career. And his wife talks about from her perspective, when he would have a "day off" she'd be looking forward to doing something in their new house, she'd want furniture rearranged or something - and he'd come home and all he could do was lie down for an hour, not out of laziness but he was just a totally exhausted guy trying to hold it together because he had to keep proving himself.

And I think working in a performance environment where you are expected to win all the time, I don't think anyone who hasn't worked in an environment like that knows what that's like and it's a huge amount of pressure. Of course they put it on themselves, I'm not saying that out of pity, I just think it's something that I've really come to understand that I didn't understand before this.

Special thanks to Gemma and Chris for their time and for producing what continues to be an amazing series. Another edition of "Hockey Diaries" is in the early stages as they work on getting their next subjects lined up for the upcoming season. They also look forward to hopefully expanding this project to other teams in the future.

Additional footage from Hockey Diaries is and will continue to be available on their tumblr, and you can also follow them on Twitter @mediachameleon.

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