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EPIX Road to the Winter Classic Episode 3: Holiday Road

Recapping the last indoor episode of EPIX Road to the Winter Classic...

[NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]

Last week's "Road" ended on a somber note, with the 'Hawks mourning the loss of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif. It's something that hangs over the start of this week's episode - and rightly so - as the show opens with the reminder that these guys are part of something bigger than themselves, that hockey is "a world that bonds them in ways nothing else can".

Let's delve into those ways, shall we?

And heeeeeere we go...

Episode 3

We rejoin the Blackhawks just a few days after Reif's passing, and it's clear that the pain is still fresh. A visibly emotional Joel Quenneville and Jonathan Toews both address the media, and it's clear that both of them would prefer to be doing anything but addressing the media.

And yet life, and hockey, go on - it's back to work for the team, as they hit the ice for practice and attempt to regain some sort of normalcy, return to the familiar routine.

********

Multiple shots of the Washington Monument whisk us away from the Windy City to the Nation's Capital, and we touch down in Virginia to have dinner with Alex Ovechkin, his family and a couple of fellow Russians in Evgeny Kuznetsov and his wife, Anastasia. Mama Ovechkin is cooking up some delicious delicacies from back home, like borscht and potatoes and... cow tongue. Yum.

It's clear that the Ovechkin family is very close, as most of us already knew, and Alex talks about the tradition he has with his parents - they talk before every game, even if just for a minute.

And who wouldn't want to talk to Mama and Papa Ovechkin? They're awesome.

Especially Mama Ovechkin.

R2WC Ep 3 Mama Ovechkin

Back at Kettler, "Santa Ovi" has paid a visit to the locker room, and every member of the team receives fancy wireless headphones. Which of course confuses Jay Beagle, because he's still trying to figure out this confounded modern technology stuff.  "What do you plug this into, my flip phone?"

It's a nice gift to be sure, but not as nice as the present Jack Hillen apparently got for Eric Fehr: Friendship. AWWW.

Later, the cameras pan the rafters of Verizon Center and show the dozens and dozens of banners hanging up there. The narrator notes that there's still one missing... leading thousands of hockey fans to make the same exact joke about there being no room and we move on because yeah.

Then it's time for the Capitals to take on the Senators, where we get nothing but Braden Holtby being awesome, Mike Green being not awesome (and then being awesome again), and a big, bad win for the Caps. After the game, we learn that "Beagle time all the time" is Barry's favorite new saying.

And now it's mine, too.

********

Just as it's a prerequisite for there to be someone from the Caps on the hunt for ice cream in these shows, there appears to be a prerequisite that we hear Swedes singing Swedish Christmas songs. Neither one gets old, really, so we head back to Chicago and join Nicklas Hjalmarsson and the rest of the 'Hawks Swedish contingent as they celebrate a traditional Swedish Christmas in the Midwest.

Hjalmarsson gives us a tour of the Scandinavian treats laid out for the party, noting that there are eight different kinds of herring.

Well, sure... because really, seven wouldn't be enough, right?

R2WC Ep 3 8 kinds of herring

(He also mourns the fact that the meatballs are too big and that they are smaller in Sweden. Make. Your own. Jokes.)

But back to hockey, because it's always back to hockey, where Chicago is taking on the Winnipeg Jets - and losing. A fight by Daniel Carcillo, encouraging words from Captain Toews and a goalie switch do nothing to spark the team, and they fall to the Jets - but not before the best exchange between a coach and a referee to date:

Referee (to Quenneville): "Are you done swearing at me now?"

Q: "Yeah, I'm done."

Back in the room, Quenneville seems disgusted in his team's performance but encourages them to put it out of their minds, burn the tape, etc. He then tells everyone to "enjoy Christmas"... but in a way that makes you wonder if he really means it.

********

Next up for the Caps? A red-hot Rangers team, and a game that we probably want to forget. But there it is, from the early Rangers lead to the foiled comeback attempt, every last bit replayed for our misery enjoyment. It's almost heartbreaking to see shots of Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera postgame, looking inconsolable... almost. They know what they did, though. They KNOW.

But it's okay, because it's almost time for a little break. And in stark contrast to his Chicago counterpart, you believe Trotz when he wishes his boys a good Christmas.

So it's time for them to do just that, and we start at the Brouwer household, where Troy Brouwer's young daughter is eagerly opening presents on Christmas Eve, which includes a Frozen book. And you just know that Troy knows all the words to "Let It Go". He also decorates a damn fine gingerbread man, by the way, because he's a man of many talents.

********

Time to whisk off to Vail, where Coach Q and family have gathered at the vacation home he purchased for exactly this reason. Lots of lovely shots of a happy family skiing the slopes, Q's kids mocking him the whole time - and after seeing him rip into just about everyone on the ice back in Chicago, it's pretty clear that they're the only ones allowed to do that and live to tell the tale.

We curl up by the fire with the Quenneville family to hear the tale of the snow monkey that rests on their coffee table. According to legend, Q had gathered  his coaches in Vail prior to the 2013 season, and they all kissed the snow monkey for good luck. Clearly it worked, so this year he brought them all back prior to training camp and had them kiss the snow monkey again in the hopes that it would once again bring them Lord Stanley.

Only one problem - it's not actually a snow monkey.

It's a deer's ass.

Amazing.

R2WC Ep 3 Snow Monkey

********

From an ass-kissing coach to the Caps' coach, we head back to the District and join Barry Trotz at home with his family, now bigger than before as his three eldest children have flown in from Nashville to spend the holidays. They make pierogis, they let Nolan open some gifts, they laugh, they chat... it's an almost Rockwellian Christmas scene.

And no animal rear ends to be found, so there's that.

We then join Joel Ward and his girlfriend for a quick Christmas in New York, complete with skating at Rockefeller Center (good, because where else would he get to skate outside??) - and then it's right back on the plane, because the road never ends for these boys.

Neither does the mocking, apparently. Brouwer teases Ovechkin for drinking Coke at 8:07 in the morning, while Ovi claims it's organic. And he wouldn't lie about that, would he? Then it's time for "the twins" to inform the world that every person on the plane got engaged over the break, including Wilson and Latta. To each other. Of course, Wilson is quick to note that they didn't even spend the break together... while Latta is too busy being annoyied at the implication that he would have been the one getting the ring. Precious.

Anyway, it's back to the ice as the Caps get ready to face the Penguins, and it's here that we find out Chimera will be a healthy scratch - not because of the penalty last game, or so Trotz claims. But the reason doesn't seem to matter much and it's clear that Chimera is really not happy with the decision; he even goes full Corey Crawford on the cameraman, barking at him to get out of his face.

Ah, but enough crankypants Chimera. If it's Caps-Penguins, it must be time to talk about you-know-what. Even the narrator gets it, noting that "the storyline has been unavoidable": Sid vs. Ovi. A battle royale. A grudge match between two superstars. A duel of superstars who... well, do nothing much of interest in this one, at least on the scoresheet.

It seems one storyline is avoidable, though, and that's the return of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, which is strangely ignored in this episode after being the focus of just about everyone else heading into that game. In fact, we only hear from Niskanen twice - once when he flips over the back of a Penguin during the game ("WWE! That was a nice armlock...") and once when he hands out the Honest Abe hat and beard to Eric Fehr.

Who rocks that thing pretty hard, by the way.

********

The Caps were triumphant coming out of their holiday break - so what will the Blackhawks do? Time to find out, as we hop on the plane for a rare gameday flight to Denver where the 'Hawks will take on the Avalanche. It's a hectic day, with the team heading straight from the plane to the rink for morning skate, trainers scrambling to set up the room as they arrive, and just a general sense of chaos with little routine.

Coach Q does his best to get his team loose, though, and puts them through their paces to prepare for that night's game. And because it's been too long since we've checked in with Andrew Shaw (no, really, it has), we see him deflecting some point shots into the net.

And then deflect one right into his own crotch, as he's all too willing to inform us.  "Got it right in the penis, gimme some ice."

R2WC Ep 3 Shaw Crotch Shot

Oof.

Earlier in the episode, Coach Q's wife talked about how her husband is a different man at home than he is behind the bench... and we believe it. This is not the same man laughing about kissing a deer's ass, that's for sure. He's in full Q form as his team rebounds from a slow start to earn a big win.

*******

It's getting closer, now. The two teams are wrapping up their indoor games and getting ready for the Winter Classic. We see players from both teams on their respective planes, flying in different directions but seemingly flying towards one another. Then we get a glimpse of Nationals Park being prepped for the game... and then back to players, this time on buses. They're getting closer to each other now, you can feel it. And then this:

"No matter where you play, no matter where you're from, no matter why you care - in hockey you want to beat your opponent because there's no better way to measure yourself. You want to win because to play this game you have to know that nothing else matters."

"Some things never change."

R2WC Ep 3 Nats Park

I don't know. That looks pretty changed to me.

It also looks pretty freaking awesome.

********

Three Stars:

3. Cow tongue and 8 kinds of herring

2. Mama Ovechkin

1. The "Snow Monkey"

Disappointments: Seriously, how do you not even mention the return of Orpik and Niskanen? And where are the rest of the Blackhawks?