Fans love Penguins reality show "24/7" on HBO: Final episode airs tonight at 10

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Sidney Crosby has fun during a shooting competition at the NHL Winter Classic press conference in July.

In readers' opinions, the Pittsburgh Penguins foray into reality television has been a big, bleepin' hit.

It's no easy feat in a genre often filled with idiots acting, well, idiotic. But every now and then, taking a peek at the real lives of unusual people can be enlightening.

Even with all that swearing.

With the series finale of HBO's "24/7: Penguins/Capitals: The Road to the Winter Classic" airing tonight at 10, Post-Gazette readers responded through e-mail and social media to say overwhelmingly, they don't want it to end.

"The series overall can best be described as EPIC!! We have loved every second of it," wrote Erin Marton, 39, of Shadyside. "Sid's F-bombs were a little unexpected, but I mean, c'mon, do we really think he never swears??? Ovie in his underpants? Now that was a whole other issue. My eyes are still burning a little."

Readers said listening to the Penguins' Sidney Crosby let loose with a few obscenities made him seem endearingly human. And a few specifically requested please, never again show the Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin, at home wearing just bling and his briefs.

But they collectively agreed that the big stars were overshadowed by the little moments. From the quirkiness of Washington's Mike Green decked out in Ugg slippers while riding his tomato-red motor scooter, to the pranks pulled on rookie players -- just how long does it take to move an entire hotel room of furniture into the hallway? -- these were memorable.

"I had no idea he [the Pens' Marc-Andre Fleury] had such a fun side," wrote Chris Stadelman, 40, of Thomas, W.Va.

Mr. Fleury, wearing an awful Christmas sweater on a flight, playing video games while chowing down on junk food, only enhanced that image.

"My favorite moment was when [the Pens'] Craig Adams' 3-year-old was walking down the hall naming the players whose pictures were on the wall. Then out of nowhere he says 'I have to stop now. My neck hurts,' " wrote Joe Rodak, 54, of Las Vegas.

Mitchell Naimark, 53, a Pens fan living in the Caps province of Severna Park, Md., said he also enjoyed that scene:

" 'Sid, Malkin, Jordan, Craig (his own Dad ... whom he referred to by his first name) ...' This was a great example of how kids sometimes separate the person at home ('Dad') with the guy in the equipment/uniform as the player ('Craig')."

Viewers said they enjoyed such family moments, including holiday dinners and a scene where Pens coach Dan Bylsma is cooking dinner with his family.

With the Penguins on a winning streak and the Capitals frustrated with multiple losses during the four-week run-up to the Winter Classic, it was easy to paint the differences between clubs, readers said.

But the biggest contrast was watching Mr. Bylsma, young, patient, intense, compared to his older Capitals counterpart, Bruce Boudreau.

Before HBO began filming in both cities, the teams joked that it would take a lot of blue language to surpass that of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan this past summer on another of the network's reality shows, "Hard Knocks."

We have a new champion. After the first show, Mr. Boudreau told the press "My mum already called me about how many F-bombs I used."

Strangely, many readers wrote to complain that they didn't mind his constant use of that particular word, but that he used it so often it just seemed repetitive and lacked effect.

"The profanity is not at all surprising, if you have ever watched a game and read lips, you know the F bomb is the word of choice in the NHL," wrote A.J. Doyle, 34, of Brentwood.

Language aside, many readers said they enjoyed watching the series with their families. In general, those involved were portrayed as family men, good sons and fathers. Even Mr. Ovechkin picked up niceness points for living with his mom and dad.

Harder to take than the profanity was the camera's unflinching portrait of why hockey is such a bloody sport. In one game, Pittsburgh's Ben Lovejoy took a puck to the left cheekbone and viewers were treated to a couple of disturbing images: the team doctor patching up his face, and the sight of that face swelling at altitude on a team flight to Washington, D.C.

"Can you tell I got hit?" Mr. Lovejoy says, ironically, to Mr. Crosby and Mr. Fleury.

Turns out, HD television really brings out the detail on these sorts of things.

Some readers appreciated the music choices. One in particular -- chosen by Pittsburgh native Bentley Weiner, who was the coordinating producer for the Pittsburgh segments -- was a Maxine Nightingale song that served as traveling music for the hockey team in the film "Slap Shot."

"For old-school hockey fans, it was a sly wink to the viewer," wrote one reader.

Then, of course, there was hockey itself. A highlight of the earlier episodes was the Penguins shootout victory over the Capitals in a Dec. 23 game that required a no-goal decision from the officials at the NHL Video Review Room in Toronto.

Readers said they were impressed to have a look at the rarely seen hub of NHL officialdom.

"That was the only time we filmed there, knowing we were going to focus extensively on that particular game," Ms. Weiner said.

"We felt viewers would enjoy being taken behind the scenes to see how the video review process works and thankfully, the NHL accommodated our request."

Another big response involved readers' surprise that fights in NHL games appeared somewhat orchestrated. They loved a scene where Mr. Crosby sits on a hotel bed and tells teammate Pascal Dupuis about "his first time" to fight.

Many who wrote are transplanted Pittsburghers, but one, Thomas Ogilvie, 25, is a Scotsman who became a fan by chance. He shared an apartment years ago with "an American guy who supported the Penguins, so I adopted them as my hockey team."

Watching "24/7," he said, rekindled his passion: "The best thing about the show is the way it combines this very informative and entertaining look at hockey with stories that leap off the page."

More than 500 hours of film later, HBO's "24/7" is ready for the final period. Ms. Weiner said the last episode focuses heavily on the Winter Classic, but of course expect much more than that.

The game might have been lost, but Jordan Staal has been found in the lineup. He won't go missing tonight.


Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478.


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