Reviewing The First Episode Of EPIX’s “Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics” Featuring Blackhawks and Blues

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The 2017 Winter Classic showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues is almost two weeks away. You know what that means? It’s documentary time!

This year, EPIX is doing a series titled “Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics, ” which follows the Blackhawks and Blues as they get ready for their game at Busch Stadium and also tracks the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs as they prepare to matchup in the Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day.

If you don’t have EPIX at home (and Lord knows I didn’t realize it was a channel until very recently), you can watch the entire first episode here. If you don’t have time to watch right now, or just want to relive it, you can follow along with reviews and reactions to each episode every week.

Now, for the sake of time I sped through anything related to the Wings and Leafs. Because in the end, who really cares?

Here’s a rundown of what went on and my thoughts into some of the more interesting tidbits from the first episode.

The series starts with, you guessed it, the Hawks. Narrator Bill Camp toots Chicago’s horn by hailing the Blackhawks as “arguably the reigning team of the decade, ” using “arguably” just in case Los Angeles Kings fans (who probably, no, definitely aren’t watch the series) wanted to complain.

EPIX has a perfect built-in excuse to lead with Lemont, Ill., native Scott Darling, as the series picks up before Chicago’s Dec. 9 home contest against the New York Rangers. That was six days after Corey Crawford underwent an emergency appendectomy, which forced Darling into starting action.

The documentary then goes into information you probably already knew. Darling was buried in amateur leagues before finally getting his shot with the Hawks two years ago and now he’s starting for the injured Crawford. What could’ve been a compelling angle was to dig deeper into Darling’s previous battle with alcoholism, but maybe that isn’t appetizing for an audience that could possess broad interests.

Instead, we get the typical narrative of how Darling grew up in Chicago and overcame the odds to start for his hometown team.

“It’s a dream come true, ” Darling said. “My whole life, since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to be the goalie for the Blackhawks. I was happy to get one game and it’s been two and a half years now I’m still here, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Cut from Johnny’s Ice House to the Blackhawks’ holiday party, where Darling meets with fans and discusses how “cool” it is to have people recognize him around his town.

We go from happy holiday vibes to the intense game between the Hawks and Rangers. Darling was magnificent, but the Hawks lost 1-0 in overtime. I was at the game, and it was thoroughly disappointing. I know you all cared about that.

That transitions the episode toward the Blues and of course no transition involving St. Louis is complete without the iconic (sarcasm) arch.

Now we are blessed with Ken Hitchock’s presence. The documentary wisely leads with Hitchcock because it will be his last year with the Blues. But, it doesn’t really get anything about why he decided to announce it would be his final season or if he’s had any second thoughts.

Again, maybe this is too narrow of a topic and there’s still time to address it in other episodes. But,  I’d like to know why Hitchcock decided to leave the Blues after the season, but didn’t say he was retiring.

Instead, we get Hitch discussing how close the Blues came to making the Stanley Cup Final (they lost in 6 games to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final).

“You start to think about how hard it was to get there and then how are you going to find that energy to go through it again?” Hitchcock said. “I think that’s the key to starting a new season. Can you reconnect to new energy? We can’t rely on last year’s.”

I kind of sense that Hitchcock sees an emotional letdown, a hangover per say, from coming up short last season. It sort of makes sense, as the Blues are only 17-11-5 this year and a dismal 4-9-1 on the road upon writing.

It then cuts to the team flight, where I’m scared EPIX will attempt to make Ryan Reaves likable at some point in this series.

The Blues lose their first game of a road trip against the Islanders. The episode then quickly segues to a matchup with the Devils and a quick feature on Martin Brodeur’s history in New Jersey. He wisely mentions that his allegiance is with the Blues now. He’s the assistant general manager in St. Louis.

The game starts, Reaves scores a goal (Ew), Jake Allen plays fantastically and the Blues win 4-1. The team is happy, relieved and we’re all of a sudden in Detroit (presses fast forward).

After spending time with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, we shift to the Blues, who are apparently having a ton of fun on their off day in St. Paul, Minn. The Blues bond, go to some hole in the wall place for a Juicy Lucy, then play a crane game with candy inside.

Robby Fabbri thoroughly enjoys his burger and asks if there are any places like this in St. Louis. He, Ty Rattie and Joel Edmundson all have a good laugh realizing there’s absolutely nothing to do in St. Louis.

Now it’s back to business. The Blues are playing the Wild and the documentary centers this game on Fabbri, who is coming off of a strong rookie season. Fabbri gets an assist, but the Blues lose, 3-1, to Minnesota.

We shift back to Chicago, where Andrew Desjardins is delivering donuts and coffee to a local Chicago fire department. It looks like he went to Dunkin, a savvy choice. One of the firemen thanks Desjardins for all the Stanley Cups and he jokes that he’s only been here for one. We’ll let it pass.

This begins a pretty cool feature on all Desjardins does around the city. He speaks with a group of firemen and police officers and shows his appreciation. That’s a good story about a guy who many fans probably don’t know a ton about.

The doc flashes forward to Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars, during which they started slowly but finished strong and goes back to Detroit.

Following a feature on Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak’s child, we’re back with the Hawks as they embark on last week’s two-game road trip in New York. Of course, they highlight that Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook returned to action last week against the Rangers. Toews shrugs off his return in typical Captain Serious fashion and we’re off at MSG.

Trevor van Riemsdyk is the story of the game, as he scores a goal in front of friends and family in attendance. TVR is a New Jersey native. Artem Anisimov, a former Ranger, scores the game-winner and the Hawks win. TVR gets the belt and we all shout hooray.

There’s a musical interlude and that’s a wrap on the first episode! It spent a whole lot of time on the Blackhawks and I’m curious to see if that continues to be the case, or if it rotates the primary emphasis from episode to episode.

What’d you think of the first episode? Let us know on Twitter @SportsMockery and @RealMattBarbato.

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Matt is a sports journalist from Chicago who has covered the NFL, NHL and college sports during his sport writing career.