EARLIER IN the day, at a news conference in New York City, Adam Graves hit it top shelf. Yeah, the saucy language of "24/7: Flyers-Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" is edgy, and the moments are raw and real. But, he said, the best part of HBO's series, which aired its second segment last night, is the players you think you know, you actually get to know.
And that, said the former Rangers winger, is unnerving.
For fans of both teams. And for the players themselves.
"Certainly, as you are watching you realize how likable they are," he said. "Outwardly looking, with the rivalry you have with the Flyers, there's so many guys you don't appreciably like on the Flyers. And I'm sure the Flyers could say the same thing about the Rangers. But when you see them in their element, part of a group, part of a family, you understand how close they are. What great ambassadors they are, what gentlemen they are, how grounded they are."
Given the language aired last night and in the first episode, given the number of naughty words hurled again last night, Graves - who works in the Rangers' Community Development Department - might have gone a little overboard here.
But I get it. And there is that side. In the debut episode of "24/7," the Rangers' Artem Anisimov hammed it up after scoring against Tampa Bay, using his stick as a gun, then apologized to his team. Steven Stamkos, one of the Tampa Bay players enraged by the act, watched the episode and came away with a different impression of Anisimov.
"For me, it was really cool to see how his reaction was to his teammates in the dressing room and how sincere his apology was," Stamkos said. "That maybe makes you look at that whole issue a little differently. Maybe we wouldn't have been able to see that if it wasn't for the show."
Some Rangers are hard not to like. Their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, seems like a guy you'd like to hang out with, especially during those guitar jam sessions with John McEnroe. Dan Girardi seems like a cool and "grounded" dad.
Some are not hard not to like. Two episodes in, the contrast between the team's coaches, Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella, is evident. Maybe it's provincialism talking here, but Tortorella seems to be playing to the camera, and clearly has a bigger potty mouth. Every night is a panic attack, it seems, and I can only imagine how these guys are going to react to him by Game 60. If it seems contrived to me, I can only imagine what it sounds like to those who have to listen to him every day. Two episodes in, he has mocked several of his players, and called them out as if there were one period left in their season.
Laviolette, who looks like that kind of guy from afar, and had a bit of a reputation in Carolina, is reserved in comparison. His message is more about how good they are and all they have to do is play hard. Maybe his tirades and calling outs are still to come, but for now, he's a better-sounding coach.
"We are better than this," he says in the dressing room between the second and third period in Montreal. "Don't just play the game to let it go by . . . Go take charge of it right now."
Even after that 6-0 drubbing from the Bruins last Saturday, Laviolette says, "Let it burn. And take it on the road with you." Last night's 4-1 victory over Dallas, the shootout loss to Colorado, they did.
But then there is the other Tortorella, the ambassador, gentleman and friend to 10-year-old Liam Trainer, a child with cerebral palsy whom he befriended through the Rangers' "Garden of Dreams" program.
"He hasn't been given a fair shake," Tortorella says, and then later, "I'm glad he's part of my life. I'm glad I'm part of his."
Yeah, I guess he's not such a jerk, after all.
And by the end of another show, you start to think that Graves really wasn't overstating anything. Rookie Zac Rinaldo, recalling playing a Sega game with Jaromir Jagr in it as a kid, says, "I was Eric Lindros."
Several Flyers calling Ilya Bryzgalov "Universe" the morning after the first show aired was priceless.
So, too, was the inside look at Claude Giroux' concussion ordeal, Sean Couturier's scare, various bloodied faces. There was even a referee telling Max Talbot - unapologetically and didactically - that he made a bad call.
"It's touching all facets that you won't normally have an opportunity to see," Graves said earlier. "But for me it's just about the people. And you just realize how remarkable these young men and the coaches and trainers are. And that's what hockey is all about."
Good television, too.