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Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals reacts after a shot attempt was saved by goaltender Chris Mason #50 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on October 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) (Kevin C. Cox/2010 Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals reacts after a shot attempt was saved by goaltender Chris Mason #50 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on October 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) (Kevin C. Cox/2010 Getty Images)

The Usual Suspects

Hard knocks for HBO NHL reality TV project Add to ...

So HBO is going to take the NHL to the dance. The American cable giant is currently recording a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred, profanity-laced documentary following the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals - all culminating in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. Courtesy of the people who brought you Tony Soprano, the world is about to see grown men wearing garter belts without a Will & Grace storyline.

It worked for the NFL's Hard Knocks, but as Stephen Brunt suggests below, it's a tectonic shift for the guys who considered Ward Cornell a sex symbol. The sport where Nuke LaLoosh's sporting cliches go to die. A secretive, cloistered business that has always kept its friends close and its enemies in a penalty box.

But just because the Vinny Chase network has invited the hockey crowd to the dance floor doesn't mean that the boys of winter will know any of the steps. Let's face it, Americans are cut out for this sort of thing from the moment they wrap chubby baby fingers around the remote. When the reality cameras roll on Cake Boss or Say Yes To The Dress, our southern neighbours don't need encouragement.

The Kardashians happen. The kids of rock stars get famous and wasted. Donald Trump fires everyone but his hair stylist. People get SAG cards and STDs.

Canada . . . we're different. This is a country where people can recite the national observatory time signal screed off by heart - "The long dash followed by 10 seconds of silence indicates exactly 11 o'clock." Where the only thing frozen harder than ice is the Prime Minister's hair. Where How I Met Your Mother spent an entire episode on the fact that '80s disco didn't hit Canada till the '90s.

Jersey Shore this ain't. Or Mimico Funk. Surrey Cool. Dorval Hip. We don't do TMZ. Or TM-Zed even.

And if Canadians are privately mortified at the notion of acting out their lives on camera, hockey players - Canadians times two - go positively rictus when the lens captures them in all their cracked-tooth, boyish smile essence. To be blunt, growing up on buses hauling across the frozen Prairie night while watching Braveheart and BASEketball with your junior team is not training for a life treading the boards of Broadway.

Trying to extract pearls of wisdom from a captive subject hockey star is like trying to get Alec Guinness to tell Colonel Saito, "Sure, the officers will work on your bridge." You want to know why sportswriters drink? Look no further than transcribing an interview tape with a defenceman from Saskatchewan.

The funniest Canadian on any team is always the guy who plays the least. Translation: The goon. And here's where HBO hopes its New Jersey mob cred can bring a little Canadian Pauly Walnuts to the screen. With bon mots in short supply from diffident Canadians, the American TV guys will try for some extreme violence - which True North hockey guys have in spades - to spice things up. Maybe Penguin black hat forward Matt Cooke can be talked into slugging Lauren Bacall and stealing her gift bag the way Christopher Moltisanti once did.

Canada's hockey version of the Timbit - Sidney Crosby - is going to be at the heart of the Pittsburgh story line. Understand: Sidney Crosby makes Bing Crosby look like a meth freak. The essence of Canadian hockey stardom, he squeaks like a toy just unwrapped from the package.

If someone is expecting Entourage on skates, you've got the wrong dude. Cros is the kid you want to bring home to your grandmother. (Quick, name one famous sitcom where a grandmother/son relationship kicked ass.)

Crosby's nemesis, Russian Alex Ovechkin - currently starring as a disembodied head in a TV commercial - is the guy you bring home to snuff your Grandma. He will have no such problems projecting, of course. With his Rasputin-like leer and scraggly beard, he's the essence of hockey's Stanislavsky Method: a raging ball of demonic menace. In short, Ovechkin is going to make great TV for HBO.

So we wish HBO well as it probes its inner Canadian for the next Turtle, the next Johnny Drama. But if all else fails, just get the Canadian boys together and ask them to count down to 11 o'clock. They'll know precisely what you mean.

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