‘Road to the NHL Winter Classic’ Recap, Episode 1: The Joel Quenneville Show

Joel Quenneville

I was devastated when I found out that the NHL’s version of 24/7 wouldn’t be returning for this season. Sure, the series was coming off its weakest season with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs featured for a month without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg involved for a majority of the time. But for the previous two seasons of the show in 2011 and 2010 (thanks to Gary Bettman for the 2012 lockout), it had become can’t-miss TV and quickly became a December tradition like going to Rockefeller Center to see the tree or watching Tom Coughlin’s Giants collapse down the stretch.

Thankfully, EPIX stepped up and stepped in to replace HBO and keep the series running this season, so we could watch life with the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time and, unfortunately, with the Washington Capitals for a second time. As I did back in 2011 for the Rangers and Flyers and in 2010 for the Penguins and Capitals, I decided it made sense to dust off the series recaps and start them up for this year’s four episodes. And I’m happy I did because of Joel Quenneville.

There used to be talks that the Winter Classic should always feature one consistent team, like the Lions or Cowboys on Thanksgiving, or make the game always be between the two same teams. Fortunately, for the sake of the series, that has never happened.

I always thought MTV’s biggest mistake with The Jersey Shore was that it didn’t change the cast after the first successful season and then just kept changing the cast for each following summer. Because of the original’s cast immediate rise to fame, each subsequent cast would have gone over the top to make sure they wilder parties, sleazier at the bars and clubs and more creative when it came to nicknames. If Mike Sorrentino was able to set the bar as high as he did in the first season of the show, who knows what his successors would have or could have been capable of to try and become that season’s version of “The Situation”. Luckily, when it comes to the Road to the NHL Winter Classic, we get a new cast every year. And when Bruce Boudreau burst onto the scene as an F-bombing leader with BBQ sauce or ketchup all over his face, I wasn’t sure if he could be topped until John Tortorella displayed just how much of an a-hole he can be by ripping his players, the media and the HBO production team all while passing Boudreau’s F-bomb record like Mark McGwire passing Roger Maris. But now both coaches have been surpassed and by a much more likable leader.

Joel Quenneville, a former Whaler, has the demeanor of the type of dad you hope your girlfriend’s dad is not. But aside from seeing his press conferences in the past and hearing him speak in official settings, I never really got a sense for who Coach Q truly is. After the opening 15 minutes of the first episode, I was worried that might carry over into the series and maybe EPIX wasn’t about to let the show go completely uncensored the way HBO had. And then we got our first glimpse of Quenneville behind the bench and what had been a tame introduction suddenly turned into hockey’s version of the Urban Dictionary from the mustached-man.

Quenneville’s overall vocabulary broke into the series’ all-time moments, which previously included the Penguins’ practical jokes, Alexander Ovechkin’s tramp stamp, Marian Gaborik drinking the night before a game and carrying his massive Christmas tree home and Ilya Bryzgalov’s philosophy lessons. Quenneville has a chance to be the best character the series has ever had and right now he’s on pace where it’s his title to lose. And he’s the reason why watching new teams every December is what makes this series. Now let’s just stop having the Capitals in the Winter Classic.

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Here are the thoughts from the first episode:

– Kevin Dineen going over the practice plan with the Blackhawks an assistant coach for the team made me both nostolagic and sad for the days of the Hartford Whalers when Dineen was their captain.

– When was the last time Joel Quenneville taped his stick? 2012? 2010? Such a head coach/old-man move by Quenneville to leave his knob taped like it hasn’t been changed since 1993 and has just been collecting dust and losing its grip in a basement or garage.

– When talking about the Kings’ Western Conference finals game-winning goal in Game 7, Corey Crawford says, “I think I ran through that last goal maybe 100 times in my head.” 100 times? That’s it? Does Crawford think that’s a lot of times? I have run through the Kings’ three overtime goals in the Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers about 1,000 times each in my head and I wasn’t playing in the game let alone the goalie who the puck got past to end the series. (If Crawford doesn’t let goal in, then maybe the Blackhawks end up winning the West and the Rangers beat the Blackhawks and win the Cup. There’s no way of knowing this would or wouldn’t have happened, so I’m going to pretend like it would have.)

– Quenneville talks about winning the two Cups and getting back to being a championship team while mentioning how hard it is to win a championship. When you look at any Cup-winning team, there are so many things that had to happen and countless bounces that had to go their way just in the playoffs to make the champions. It seems like Quenneville realizes how fortunate he has been to be the head coach of two winning teams in a three-year span. It’s also this realization that makes me depressed knowing how close the Rangers were last year and how hard it is to even get back to the Finals, knowing it could easily be another two decades until they are back there.

– Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are so soft spoken when the camera is on only them that it’s interesting to see how vocal and different they are during the games, and for Kane, how crazy he gets when he’s out on the town.

– I’m sure Bauer wasn’t thrilled with Toews pulling their sticks off the rack and saying, “These sticks are garbage” and holding them responsible for his scoring drought.

– I wasn’t sure if we would see Ovechkin’s tramp stamp the way we did four years ago, but sure enough, there it was in the first episode. It’s really not exciting to watch or write about the Capitals and it’s gotten even worse over the last four years.

– Barry Trotz reminds me of Bruce Boudreau. He also reminds me of someone who would play a police chief if he were an actor.

– Last season, I went to Chicago to the Rangers play. It was my first time in Chicago, my first time at a Blackhawks home game and my first time witnessing Jim Cornelison sing the Anthem in person and it’s incredible. The people of Chicago are doing it right. Everyone should be cheering and clapping during the anthem at every event.

– Any time I see Michal Roszival score a goal, it hurts. And it hurts even more knowing he has his name on the Stanley Cup.

– I miss Daniel Carcillo. Come back “Car Bomb”. You can take Tanner Glass, Chicago. I will drive him to you.

– I was a so-so Brandon Prust fan when he was on the Rangers. He was fan favorite because he was a third- and fourth-line grinder who did the things every blue-collar fan enjoys. He got overpaid on the open market and went to Montreal and turned into a scum. Maybe he was always scum when he was on Calgary and then here in New York and I just didn’t realize it. But putting on that Canadiens jersey has changed Prust for the worst and now he’s even diving as he did against Kane. And when he’s not diving, he giving out flying elbows in the Eastern Conference finals.

– Bryan Bickell looks like a mess in the Blackhawks’ trainers room and should have been an easy target for a joke from Andrew Shaw, but Shaw totally botched whatever he was going for and set up Bickell almost too perfectly to rip him about his Lloyd Christmas-esque haircut. (After Quenneville’s mouth, this was my favorite scene of the episode.)

– Scott Darling rips through the teams he has been with and they are as follows: Louisiana IceGators, Reading Royals, Florida Everblades, Mississippi RiverKings, Las Vegas Wranglers, Wheeling Nailers, Wichita Thunder, Cincinnati Cyclones, Charlotte Checkers, Hamilton Bulldogs, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Blackhawks. According to Darling’s HockeyDB page, he didn’t even play in a game with all of those teams, which makes his path to the NHL that much more remarkable. But the craziest part of it all is that four years ago he was playing in the Southern Pro league and now he is on the Blackhawks.

– Capitals goalie coach Mitch Korn, who is supposedly called one of hockey’s Top 10 geniuses, lives in a hotel for the entire season, yet he checks out and moves everything out of his room and into his car before every road trip. Louis CK was right when he said “genius” and other adjectives are used too loosely nowadays.

– Brad Richards was a good Ranger. He wasn’t great and wasn’t what everyone thought he would be when he signed a nine-year, $60 million deal after the 2010-11 season, but there is a short list of players in the league that could have lived up to that deal and he wasn’t one of them. Now he gets to be on the Blackhawks and not have to worry about being a star or carrying a team or running a power play and bettered his chances at winning his second Cup. Good for Brad Richards.

– After I graduated from college, I lived in Hoboken, making little to no money and my apartment looked and was furnished like and my fridge was stocked exactly the way Tom Wilson and Michael Laatta’s apartment is, all the way down to the bed on the floor without a frame and the team blanket folded over the couch with XBox controllers also on the couch. The problem here is that I had no money. Like zero dollars. Tom Wilson is making $925,000 this year and Michael Laatta is making $575,000. Step it up a little.

– The final thought of the first episode goes to Joel Quenneville: “Kaner, what a f-cking shot. Peanut Butter. Holy f-ck.”

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