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Road to the 2020 Winter Classic Episode 1: Hot Rods and Shut Downs

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The Winter Classic is the only regular-season meeting that is given its own narrative. Take a look at how the NHL is setting the plot for the Nashville Predators versus the Dallas Stars.

2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Rink Build Out Photo by Sam Hodde/NHLI via Getty Images

WARNING: If you haven’t watched the first episode of Road to the 2020 Winter Classic, this will spoil it for you.

Still reading? Ok, let’s go.

The Dallas Stars are introduced as a team in transition, as the series opens with the press conference in which it is announced that Jim Montgomery has been fired and Rick Bowness will be taking over as head coach. There’s a great shot of Bowness waiting to be announced while standing backstage. There’s a hint of nervousness visible, but this is the last glimpse of nerves you’ll see out of Bowness for the duration of the episode and (I’m guessing) the series.

One of the first things Bowness tells his players is that they are going to focus on scoring chances for and against. He shows them a sheet that shows these stats in all situations on ice and explains that it will be posted outside the locker room before and after every game. He wants the team to focus on reducing the chances against.

The team then moves out to practice where there are many shots of Bowness with his collar up, looking like Jack Reilly from The Mighty Ducks, in stoic poses as the team practices around him. After practice, the team reacts to the coaching change. It is clear the players respect him and feel confident in his leadership.

The first appearance of the Nashville Predators also starts with their coach, Peter Laviolette. Laviolette is presented as an established coach and is featured leaving his house for work. He kisses his wife, Kristen, good-bye (on the cheek) after being kissed by their dog (presumably on the lips). Laviolette is shown getting in his SUV and driving to work, headed downtown to Bridgestone as the rest of middle Tennessee heads back to the suburbs. He’s headed to coach the Predators against the San Jose Sharks. Juuse Saros is in net and the Predators win 3-1. After the game, Yakov Trenin presents “The Hat” to Juuse Saros. The hat in question is a trucker mesh Predators hat with a mullet wig attached.

Next up, we get to see how some of the Predators spend an off day. The camera crew follows Dan Hamhuis, his wife, Sarah, and their three daughters to the zoo in Nashville. They’ve probably chosen to follow Hamhuis due to his long tenure with both teams involved in the Winter Classic this year. One of his daughters questions how the ice will stay frozen in Dallas. If the NHL was hoping for some kind of introspective reflection on what it will be like to play against your previous team in the Winter Classic, they didn’t get it from Hamhuis at the zoo. Quite a shame, really, I’d love to know what’s going on behind that look of constant turmoil he wears.

The show transitions back to Dallas as the Stars take on the Vegas Golden Knights. In a direct contrast to the pre-game coverage of Peter Laviolette, Rick Bowness is shown getting into his Corvette and waxing philosophical about fast cars and getting older. At this point in the episode, it appears that Bowness is being portrayed as a guy that’s finally getting his chance in the limelight. However, it should be noted that Bowness has been a head coach of five other NHL teams.

After arriving at the arena, he is greeted by Tyler Seguin, who jokes about driving slowly in a sports car. The game progresses and all appears to be going well for the Stars. During the intermission, it appears as though the Stars also give out something similar to “The Hat” that the Predators give out—however, it isn’t a hat, it’s a very frightening Halloween mask. But, wait, it isn’t the end of the game, why would they give the mask out during intermission...SURPRISE, it isn’t a mask, IT’S COREY PERRY! He plays for the Dallas Stars now! You have been warned!

Once the coverage heads back to the game, we get to hear the Stars’ goal “song”, which remains terrible. It reminds me that if for some reason the Stars score a goal during the Winter Classic, I hope they play literally any other song...maybe even Nickelback. The game heads south and the Stars lose and immediately hop on a plane for Nashville.

The show transitions back to Nashville and shows a beautiful night scene at the Ryan Johansen Fraternity House, featuring Fraternity President Ryan Johansen, Fraternity Music Coordinator Colton Sissons, and pledge brother Dante Fabbro. They are having a friendly competition at the on-property chipping and putting green. Stakes are high as Fabbro loses and is set to be hazed by being forced to do the dishes...once again. The guys are in high spirits as they discuss the upcoming outdoor game and share hopes that their families will come skate with them in the days leading up to it. Of course, they all seem naive, as we know the horror that awaits them when Dallas gets to town the next day.

The next day, the two teams meet in a preview of the Winter Classic/rematch of the 2019 playoffs. We all remember this game. It was terrible. It was one of the worst games I’ve witnessed in person.

There is something worth discussing. I was sitting on press row during the game and I remember the team heading down the tunnel after the second period and thinking, “I’d hate to be in that locker room during intermission.” And I remember thinking this because I felt, as I’m sure many do, that Peter Laviolette was going let slip a rage-fueled diatribe that would peel the paint off the walls and bring great shame among those present.

However, the camera crew was there, and now we all know what happened. Laviolette was completely calm and simply explained that everyone shut down after Dallas went up and that he needed to see a response and it needed to come from leadership...and everybody just sat there. And there was no response.

And the Predators were beaten...savagely.

The episode ends talking about how the teams will see each other again in two weeks, outdoors. However, what’s more important here (at least, to me) is that Peter Laviolette is fully aware of how this team crumbles at the first sign of adversity. I’ve seen the team do this many times this season, assumed that Laviolette has a meltdown in the locker room, then watched the team come out only to underwhelm and not respond. I’ve always assumed that they don’t respond because he doesn’t see it and he doesn’t call it out...BUT HE DOES! But they still don’t respond to it.

If I took anything from this behind-the-scenes look, it’s that there is definitely something wrong in the Nashville locker room and it isn’t the head coach missing the obvious issue of the team shutting down in the face of adversity. It may still be related to the head coach, but I can safely cross one of my many speculations off the list of possible problems.

Look for the Episode 2 review coming soon!