The best NHL reality series you’re not watching: #BehindTheB

The first thing Peter Chiarelli, the Boston Bruins’ general manager, told Dennis Seidenberg when the defenseman signed his four-year contract extension in October was not “watch your right ACL, bud.”

The first thing Chiarelli said to Seidenberg was “we’re not going to announce it until tomorrow, OK?” We know because it’s right here at the eight-minute mark:

Seidenberg signed his new contract without ceremony, which is usually how these things go. Judging by the looks on Chiarelli and Seidenberg’s faces, you would think it meant less to them than to Bruins fans.

The beat reporters assigned to cover teams must bridge the gap between these dry, business-like moments behind the scenes, and the fans who want to celebrate that moment (and also the fans who might be screaming at their televisions in protest: “No Peter! Don’t you dare let that overrated, over-the-hill bum sign that piece of paper!”) So we ask questions like “Dennis, what was going through your mind when you signed the contract?” or “Peter, what’s the first thing you said to Dennis right after he signed?” And the answer is usually something that honors the spirit of the moment. Maybe Dennis was thinking “look at all those zeroes” — we don’t actually know and he would never say that — but Peter might have given an answer along the lines of “I congratulated Dennis for all his hard work for this organization over the last three years,” and that would be wrong, because what Peter actually said was “we’re not going to announce it until tomorrow, OK?”

Society is no better off for that little bit of information. But as a journalist, it’s a little bit of information that I would hate to see lost to history. That’s how I became smitten with “Behind the B,” an all-access documentary of the Boston Bruins’ season available for free viewing on the Bruins’ website and YouTube.

The first episode picks up just before the 2013 draft. By the time it’s over, we know why Bruins management decided to trade Tyler Seguin1, how much consensus existed in the front office about this decision2, and how long it took the first team to call Chiarelli with an offer3. The second episode, and each episode thereafter, is half as long as the first.

Once the players have reported to training camp and the season begins, the most dramatic moments start playing out on the ice. Fortunately there are just enough players mic’d up, and just enough behind-the-scenes tidbits to hold your interest.

In Episode 2, Chris Kelly calls out an opponent on the ice as a “dirty little player.”4 In Episode 3, Tuukka Rask tells a horse “hey what’s up bud,” and Matt Lindblad is cut on an airplane, in the middle of a chartered team flight. In Episode 4, the cameras follow equipment manager Keith Robinson throughout an unglamorous day’s work of packing, unpacking, folding, washing and drying, before he pulls a trundle bed from the wall of a room inside TD Garden and settles in to his makeshift bedroom for the night. In Episode 5, Kevin Miller’s mom cries and hugs her son after his first NHL game.

There’s something to be said for the crudeness of the “Behind the B” viewing experience. The presentation, the cinematography, Denis Leary’s voiceover and the soundtrack invoke something bigger. The fact that it’s a short video on YouTube, often looking more like a high-caliber home movie than a low-caliber television documentary, makes it more personal. So does the presenting sponsor — Alex and Ani, a Rhode Island jewelry store, which is a far cry from, let’s say, Audi.

That feeling of intimacy is nice, but it’s not the biggest advantage “Behind the B” has over HBO’s highly acclaimed “24/7: The Road to the Winter Classic.” By not dividing the viewers’ attention between two teams, and by picking up the Bruins’ storyline in the middle of the off-season, there’s both a greater level of detail and a broader story arc. “24/7” is, in essence, the Reader’s Digest version of two teams’ seasons. At its worst, it’s also a cleverly disguised promotional vehicle for the Winter Classic. “Behind the B” is a more complete documentary.

Moments like rookie left wing Anthony Camara’s stoic reaction to being cut in training camp reminds you that this isn’t a production. “Be excited for where you’re headed because we are,” says assistant general manager Don Sweeney. “OK,” says the poker-faced rookie. This is how professional athletes interact with their bosses: Very business-like, minus the suit and tie.

As was the case with “24/7,” there are limits to the “all access” concept. We didn’t know which was the first team to call Chiarelli about Seguin. That’s fair — you’d need two teams’ permission to get that information on camera. Far less fair was the editors’ treatment of Shawn Thornton’s infamous hit on Brooks Orpik in a December 7 game between the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Thornton hit Orpik from behind and was slapped with a well-earned 15-game suspension, the longest suspension issued by the league in almost three years. Here’s how the sequence played out in reality:

And here’s how it played out in “Behind the B”:


Wait, sorry, do we have the Thornton video?


No, I guess we don’t have that one.

To say the cameras glossed over the moment in Episode 6 would overstate the erasing powers of gloss. Whichever member of the “Behind the B” video-editing team reports directly to the Bruins’ front office simply omitted the play and the subsequent reaction from history. Almost instantly, the novelty of being behind the scenes wore off. Brad Marchand’s clownish two-touch hallway soccer antics lost their charm; you suddenly understood why so many detest him. The Thornton omission was an unwanted reminder that the Bruins were hosting this series on their own website. Once the all-access concept reached its limit, the series seemed more fun before I knew the limit existed.

That shouldn’t take away from the revelations in the previous episodes. The remaining six episodes certainly have some potential – particularly if the Bruins have an active trade deadline. The IMDB ratings for the series might tell an interesting story when the sample size becomes large enough. Glimpses into the players’ personalities are typically a bigger selling point for women; a high rating from male viewers would be a sign of success.

In Boston, “Behind the B” is getting attention from the local media, but elsewhere it’s been a fairly well-kept secret. Can other non-Bruins fans stay with the series at least into the sixth episode? Can the other 29 NHL teams produce something similar using the “Behind the B” template?

If so, let’s see the suspended players getting suspended, and anything else players do to make their teammates squirm uncomfortably. It makes for good TV.

1. In spite of his skill, the Bruins’ brass felt that Seguin might never play physically enough to match up to expectations.
2. Plenty.
3. Not long.
4. My favorite Kelly moment during the series comes when he checks Niklas Kronwall to the ice. Kronwall asks rhetorically, “was that necessary?” Kelly replies, “Absolutely.”

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J.P. Hoornstra
J.P. Hoornstra
J.P. Hoornstra is a writer based in Southern California.


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