NEW YORK, N.Y. - The NHL and its network partners are joining forces to provide more behind-the-scenes coverage before and after the expanded outdoor games, along with unprecedented access when star players head to Sochi for the Olympics.
"NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other," a seven-part series, will air on the NBC Sports Network in the United States and on CBC in Canada between January and March. It will follow the nine teams that will participate in the NHL's four-game rivalry Stadium Series and the Heritage Classic.
"This is a unique year, a very unique year, and the Olympic experience giving this all a great platform," NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said. "The story lines are there, and we have an All-Star lineup. We have 100 days and nights of shooting ahead."
The Anaheim Ducks will face the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25. The New York Rangers will take on the rival New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders on Jan. 26 and 29, respectively, at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week. And the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to Soldier Field on March 1 after the Olympics.
The show is being produced by Julie Bristow of Toronto-based Bristow Global Media Inc., with former HBO president Ross Greenburg serving as an executive producer on behalf of the NHL. It will also track those players who go to the Olympics, with the series concluding after they return to their NHL teams.
While at Sochi, crews will have access to players off the ice—including in the Olympic village.
"I think it's great," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "The game itself is going to bring a lot of attention to hockey, and then a show like that will also bring more attention to it.
"That is a positive itself. We're in tough competition with other sports, in the U.S. especially, so a series like that, maybe you can win over a few fans and they can get excited about the game."
Similar shows that led up to previous Winter Classics preceded this venture, but this one differs in that it will tell stories instead of just doing a chronological buildup to the event. Players will be followed in their interactions with teammates and when they go to Russia for the Olympics. Perhaps they'll play against usual teammates and join up with countrymen who are NHL foes, then they'll return for the stretch drive toward the playoffs.
"The IOC said to talk to our rightsholders," Collins said regarding the Olympic access. "If it's good for them, it's good for us. At Sochi we will have multiple cameras and crews. You can see players as they live in the Olympic village. A chance to capture the full Olympic experience."
The series will not include the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, who will face off in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on New Year's Day, simply because that game is too soon.
"The Winter Classic is our jewel, which exploded on the landscape," Collins said. "That had made Jan. 1 a special day. Now these games will be rivalry games. They will get us to markets we wouldn't get to. It gives us a chance to bring in new fans for these games."
Showing players away from the rink gives fans the unique ability to get to know their favourite athletes. Seeing them without helmets, visors, or goalie masks makes the players more familiar.
"We want to give that feeling to the viewer that they're inside, that they'll be in training rooms, meeting rooms and locker rooms," Greenburg said. "They'll be hearing from coaches. Players will be miked on the ice. Cameras will be low on the ice in arenas.
"We also want to bring to life these stadium games and, obviously, Sochi because those are the big events."
On-ice dialogue will be an attractive aspect of the show, much as NFL Films changed the way football highlights were presented.
"A lot of times it's about the fans getting to know the players a little bit and getting a connection and understanding who we are and what we stand for," Lundqvist said. "Then they might get more excited into hockey, and then when they actually experience the game, I am pretty confident they will love it."
The NHL and NBC are counting on that in the United States. The league takes a risk every four years in shutting down its season for a few weeks so players can represent their countries at the Olympics.
"We love the game; we admire the players, and we want to take that and make it as big as we possibly can," Collins said. "We want to make it big through the events we do. We want to make it big through the programming we do. It's not just enough to feed the core hockey fan, but we want to expose the sport to casual fans as well and continue to grow the game.
"That's been a huge part of the partnership with CBC, and it's been a huge part of the NBC relationship."
The hope is that casual fans will get even more interested before the Olympics and will be hooked to follow the remainder of the NHL season once it resumes. And new fans could be gained during the two weeks that the focus of the sports world is on Sochi.
"I think the Olympics is one of the biggest platforms for hockey worldwide," said Lundqvist, expected to star for Sweden in Sochi. "The NHL is really big over here, but for Europe and the rest of the world to have hockey in the Olympics, it's really important to expand the brand."