Face-off on the ice
Monday, May 9, 2011
Matt Hendricks, a former captain of the Husky Hockey team, sat down in front of the camera, his face marred from the night before. Landing face first onto the ice after a fight, he was left with a swirling bruise that lit up his eye socket like an aurora borealis. Seven stitches were required to mend the gash. Repugnant by most standards, the badge was an unsubtle reminder of another National Hockey League battle, beautiful only to those who find solace on a hockey rink.
On the other side of the camera, Mike Oliver ’05 asked Hendricks when he became a fighter.
“If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” Hendricks said with an intense yet morose expression.
So is life in the NHL.
The scene was from HBO’s critically acclaimed television show “24/7 Pens Caps: Road to the Winter Classic.” The series took viewers on a four-week odyssey, into the locker rooms of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on their way to the NHL’s premier regular season event: The Winter Classic.
For the St. Cloud State alumni facing off on both sides of the camera, Hendricks, and Oliver ’05, who was associate producer of the crew following the Caps, it was not their first encounter at a hockey rink. Oliver was the executive producer for Husky Productions, UTVS broadcasts of St. Cloud State men’s hockey games, and is now working in Los Angeles as a producer with DLP Entertainment.
Hendricks, in his first year with the Washington Capitals and second in the NHL, was a four-year Husky hockey standout from 2000-04. Known for his scoring in college, Hendricks has augmented his game to stay in the NHL after bouncing around for several years in the minors.
“Last season, I was talking to a buddy on the golf course about trying to make the team (Colorado Avalanche) out of training camp,” Hendricks said. “He told me that I didn’t need to worry about scoring goals, but to play the role of a fourth-liner.”
This year he attended Capitals’ camp without a contract and impressed them with “my grit and willingness to stick up for teammates.”
Soon after making the team as a free agent, Hendricks said, Capitals General Manager George McPhee informed the team about a film crew following their season. “He said it was going to be full access.” Hendricks said. “They were in the training room, closed door meetings and joined us while we watched film.”
Inserting a camera crew into the height of an NHL season and asking players to share their innermost thoughts is a daunting assignment for even the most seasoned professional. But for Oliver, knowing a familiar face, initially, was reassuring.
“Being in college and working with him in St. Cloud, it was a situation, ‘Who knows if I’ll ever see you again,’” Oliver mused.
However, for Oliver and the crew following the Capitals, the HBO experiment didn’t start smoothly. The film crew captured the Capitals amid an eight-game losing streak. As Washington struggled, the focus was soon turned on Oliver and the cameramen. Hockey players are notoriously superstitious and outsiders are treated friendly, but cautiously.
“We came in and the guys started losing and they looked at us as if we were the reason for their losses,” Oliver said. “They were kidding with us, but sometimes it felt as if they meant it. It made all of our jobs extremely difficult. We wanted to follow the guys but they didn’t want us to, because they were losing.”
More than 4.5 million viewers tuned-in to NBC during prime-time to see the Caps vanquish the Penguins 3-1. The show has won a Sports Emmy® and gave Hendricks and Oliver a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“(Hendy and I) had a chance to look back at our time in St. Cloud where we both had no money, no experience,” Oliver said. “We were able to make it in our respective fields, in the careers that we wanted to be in.”