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EPIX Road to the Winter Classic Episode 2: The Bumpy Road

It's on to Episode 2 of the EPIX series "Road to the Winter Classic"...

[NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]

Last week we were introduced to the coaches and players traveling along the road to the Winter Classic, and were introduced to the road itself. This week, EPIX took us further down that road to show how it can be a difficult place, a difficult path to travel - and how it should be hard.

And away we go...

Episode 2

A montage of bruising checks and bruised faces leads us into the second episode, the narration noting ominously that being great should, among other things, "make you feel pain".

But first, let's look at some cute kids on ice, shall we?

It's holiday time, and the Caps and their families have taken to the ice at Kettler for the team's holiday skating party. Precious moments abound, from Jay Beagle's adorable potato of a son being hauled around in a sled to Jason Chimera's son Cale putting a puck past Ovi the Goalie (only to be swung around the ice by said "goalie" as punishment). We meet Karl Alzner's days-old daughter Stella, who has no problem sleeping through her first trip on the ice, and we see Barry Trotz and his son Nolan taking a few spins around the rink together.

The simplicity of the party doesn't seem to bother anyone in attendance, and it's a nice bit of slice-of-life for the rest of us, as we get to watch these elite athletes just be family men. Very sweet.

The scene shifts to another sweet moment, as we join Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov on a guy's night out... at a Wizards game. Synergy! For anyone else this could seem staged, but we know Ovechkin often goes to basketball games, so we'll allow it. Just this once.

R2WC Ep 2 Ovi ice cream

After Ovechkin goes out in search of ice cream (because it's not an all-access look at the Caps unless someone goes out in search of ice cream), and after the Wizards take care of business on the court, the boys are invited into the locker room to chat with some of the players. Marcin Gortat knows exactly who Ovechkin is, exclaiming "the Russian machine!"; Nene, however, does not seem to know who he is. Ah, well. Synergy can only take you so far.

The brief respite comes to an end and it's back to the ice, this time sans families as the Caps take on the Panthers in Sunrise. We watch the grinding game unfold, but really, regulation holds little interest for us now (as it did at the time, as well). This one's all about the shootout, and it doesn't disappoint... well, except for the ending, of course. With Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin and Coach Trotz mic'd up, we're privy to some great reactions on the bench that are best offered without comment:

  • Trotz (after calling on Latta to take his turn): "No, I'm not f&#kin' lying"
  • Wilson, on Orpik's goal: "The triple deke! Holy f%$k! I'll be damned!"
  • Wilson, on the ensuing goalie battle: "Coach Korn has a pitched tent in the stands right now."

Charming.

Back in the room after the loss, Trotz makes a point to go around and give everyone a fistbump on a hard-earned point - and then it's somber faces back on the bus, the plane, and off to another city, with the reminder that "it can be cathartic to leave a town that drained you".

Which possibly explains why the Caps play so well away from DC.

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Oh right, there's another team in this show... time to check back in with the Blackhawks, who are still licking their wounds after seeing their lengthy win streak snapped, poor babies. And our first stop is with Corey Crawford, who acts like he wants to be anything but our first stop, and does absolutely nothing to hide that fact. Seems like a nice guy, no?

No.

He's not the only one feeling crabby. Patrick Sharp, fresh off his return from a month-long absence, is frustrated with his slow start and letting it show during a game, to the point where Bryan Bickell is prompted to rant a bit about Sharp's attitude on the bench. See? Their workplace is just like yours, backbiting and gossip and all.

Of course, then Sharp manages to score a game-tying goal, the orchestra rises, the curtain falls and it's back to...

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...the Caps. More precisely, it's back to that dynamic duo, that unintentionally hilarious twosome, Michael Latta and Tom Wilson. We join the two out on the town in Columbus, enjoying a nice meal and some sparkling conversation as Wilson ponders the complex nature... of pickles.

"A pickle is like a pickled cucumber, no?" notes Wilson, musing over this as if it were one of the universe's great mysteries. Making it even better is that Latta doesn't believe him, and has to be convinced of the process required to turn a mere cucumber into a pickle.

A pickle is like a pickled cucumber, no? - Tom Wilson

A true meeting of the minds, folks.

After a bit more discussion (Wilson, when asked what the movie Interstellar is about, notes that "it's like space, I think"...) and some mockery of Latta's healthy food selections by an exiting Joel Ward, it's back to the rink to take on the Blue Jackets.

We see the Caps go up by two, and the Jackets tie it at two... and then the rough stuff gets underway. From his spot behind the bench, we learn that Barry Trotz really enjoys fighting, urging his combatants on and noting gleefully that Latta "beat the f&#king snot out of him". That would be more exciting if we didn't also learn that Latta seems concerned about his hand while in the penalty box. Yay, fighting!

The tough stuff fades and it's back to hockey, with every butt-clenching, heart-stopping moment of that back-and-forth game captured in HD for us to relive before Eric Fehr mercifully ends it in overtime. Back in the room, it's time to hand out the Honest Abe hat and beard to Mike Green - and witness the lengthy, almost mocking standing ovation for him by his teammates. A pretty great moment punctuated by Trotz's quote as he exits the room...

"No wonder why I've lost my hair." We feel you, Barry.

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The focus back in Chicago is once again on Andrew Shaw, the 'Hawks agitator known as "the mutt" who apparently has a penchant for mooning cameras. If this were HBO, perhaps we'd get the full shot of his bare derriere... but alas, the camera cuts away too soon just in time.

The 'Hawks take the ice once more to face the Minnesota Wild, a game that features (among other things) an elbow to the head of Shaw - and once again it's time for a Chicago player to leave the bench for mandatory head-injury precautions. If Toews was annoyed at having to do this in Episode 1, it's nothing compared to how pissed off Shaw gets at the news. We know you're upset, sir, but it's no reason to take your anger out on innocent hockey sticks...

After Chicago pulls off a squeaker of a win against the Wild, it's time for their holiday party, featuring more adorable children. Bryan Bickell proudly shows off his adorable daughter to Daniel Carcillo, who says exactly what you would expect Daniel Carcillo to say: "she looks like me, no?"

Ew.

Alas, it's not all fun and adorable children for everyone; we learn that Scott Darling, the journeyman goaltender who had been filling in while Crawford was out, has been returned to Rockford - "90 miles and an entire world away from Chicago". Darling's stalwart but clearly emotional speech about being happy to be back, and willing to pay his dues, tugs at the emotional heart strings a bit - the road to the NHL is not an easy one.

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Back in Columbus, we get another look at just how much Trotz seems to like and appreciate the art of fisticuffs, highlighting Latta's fight as a galvanizing moment for the team. He implores them to continue to be hard to play against, and carries that sense of urgency into practice, at one point even teasing (?) his captain about not being focused and awake during drills.

(Cue eleven billion articles being furiously typed out about how Ovechkin is a lazy, shiftless bum in practice...)

Practice over, it's time to head up into the friendly skies once more. En route to New Jersey, we get another look at the usual life on a team plane, with card games, naps, and... wait, what is Carlson wearing on his feet??

R2WC Ep 2 Carlson's Socks

...styling.

Upon landing in Newark, snazzy-footed Carlson and Karl Alzner show off their good guy sides by taking the equipment and training staff out to a nice dinner - a reminder, one that will become even more pointed a bit later on, that teams create their own little family away from home that includes everyone from the coaches to the players to the hard-working guys behind the scenes.

After another glimpse at That Goal and two points in New Jersey, the scene shifts back to DC - from the "family" on the road to the families waiting at home.

We spend the afternoon with one of those families, and an adorable one at that, when Nicklas Backstrom invites us all along as he and his girlfriend take their young daughter to the playground. It's full of heart-warming moments, whether it's watching Backstrom taking the little one down a slide or simply listening to the usually-stoic center reflect almost wistfully on the rare time spent with his young daughter. Like Brad Richards before him, this is another father frequently pulled away from loved ones - and time that they won't get back - to play hockey. Cheesy? A bit, perhaps, but very real all the same.

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Okay, back to the 'Hawks and their season ticket holder party, where they chat with fans and pose with pictures like the good boys they are. One woman is even prompted to tell Patrick Kane that he's "a very nice young man"... to which he laughs (and we do, too). Oh, comedy.

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We move from the public, celebrity side of the team to the unheralded one, and meet Chicago's assistant equipment manager Clint Reif. He takes us through the room as he tends to his duties, adjusting skate laces and sticks and jerseys with a keen eye to every detail and talking about the family that exists within the room and within hockey itself. After all, it's a small community - a fraternity of a select few who know what life in the NHL is like. And as the episode comes to an end, the closeness of this community is brought into sharp focus.

On December 21, Clint Reif passed away suddenly; he was 34 years old.

When Quenneville addresses the media shortly after delivering the news to his team, it's clear that Reif's passing has hit him - and the entire organization - extremely hard.

A member of the family is gone.

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Three Stars:

3. Wilson and Latta

2. Shaw's rear end

1. "Honest Abe" Green

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RIP Clint Reif

R2WC Ep 2 Clint Reif