HBO is a leader is the sports documentary world with big hits in “Hard Knocks,” “24/7 Pacquioa/Whoever,” and now a newfound rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. The main characters in the drama are NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

This mini-series showcases the road to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic of the these two Eastern Conference rivals playing outdoors at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. HBO is allowed unlimited access to both benches and locker rooms giving us uncensored insight into the inner workings of the rivalry.

The Pens are one of the league’s best teams with the league’s best player. Sid “The Kid” gets a lot of flack for being kind of a “pretty boy” for whining and not wanting to mix it up in years past. However, on multiple occasions this season Sid has dropped the gloves to prove the he is not a pansy and that not only can he score on you but he can pull a sweater of your head and punch you a couple of times too.

The Pens are led by young Head Coach, Dan Bylsma who won the Stanley Cup with the Pens only 4 months after being called up from their minor league system. He is the NHL’s version of Josh McDaniels except he actually wins games and he isn’t a doucher. He brings a fun and intense atmosphere to the team in by having a monthly shootout contest in which the last player to score has to grow out his mustache until the next month’s practice.

Hockey players are different than other new-age athletes. They have a stereotype of being tougher than other players. They are allowed and encouraged to fight and fight well. The grow out funny mustaches and beard combinations. They add the letter “Y” to the end of someones name to better identify themselves through nick of name. These hockey player traits are also brought forth by the struggling Washington Capitals.

Russian phenom Alexander “The Great” Ovechkin wears the “C” for the Caps. He isn’t as corporate as his young counterpart. He has the signature missing teeth, scratchy beard, of which he recently shaved due to his new deal with Gillette. AO is known for his flashy play and playboy nature off the ice. He is known well by the ladies in competing cities as well as the bartenders who keep fine Russian vodkas in the well for him.

The Caps are stuck in a bit of a rut right now that Head Coach Bruce Boudreau (who reminds me of an angry roly poly) cannot seem to pull his players out of. Losing streaks, spreading flu viruses, and poor defense have kept the Caps a foot the bottom of the Eastern Conference this year, which adds to the building competitive antimosity towards New Years day when they enter into the Winter Classic.

The Caps got kids in the nurse’s office and the Pens are trying to fend off others till they can get back to full strength with the return of league leading point getter Evgeni Malkin. The both have their work cut out for them as they are taped taping their sticks on their skate to playing on the pond outside in the Burgh.

It is outdoor played games like this that I feel brings the NHL back to where it should be as a top 4 sport in America that has been taken over by UFC, NASCAR, soccer, and golf. The NHL has also implemented a playground system of selecting their 2011 All Star Team. The team’s capitans will select their remaining players in hopes of hosting a more competitive game with a playoff atmosphere rather than that of an exhibition.

Obviously hockey isn’t as popular as football in America, but this is a great show if you like hockey or can at least tolerate it. It is on Wednesdays at 7pm on HBO and I highly suggest you DVR it. Most people who watched Hard Knocks weren’t avid Jets/football fans they were just people who liked getting an insider’s view into a cool reality show.


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