Go inside the coolest game on earth.
Each year, The National Hockey League conducts its annual entry draft in June; hundreds of skilled young players fight for consideration among a talent pool of thousands to secure a select spot on an NHL roster, striving to be part of a Stanley Cup-winning team. Later, in September, the league holds a ceremony in which three retired hockey players are inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. That is quite a winnowing process: literally thousands upon thousands ultimately narrowed to three. NHL All-Access! takes this same approach, sifting through the sport's historically expansive scope and pointing its focus instead into a tight, 50-minute first-hand perspective showcasing memorable modern milestones of the game.
Facts of the Case
Hosted by ESPN's Bill Clement, NHL All-Access! offers an inside look into three integral moments in recent hockey history. You are there to witness Patrick Roy become the NHL's all-time winningest goaltender. Next, share in the emotion as Wayne Gretzky plays his final professional game before permanently hanging up his skates. Finally, revel in awe as Super Mario Lemieux surprisingly steps out of retirement and makes his triumphant return to the ice with his Pittsburgh Penguins. But that's not all…with NHL All-Access!, you get to "go inside the game," as the camera and microphones enter the ice and locker rooms to show on- and off-ice aspects of professional hockey that typical television broadcasts tend to ignore.
Fortunate enough to have a brother-in-law with ice-level season tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins' home games, I regularly journeyed to the Civic Arena to see my hero Mario Lemieux, cheering on Big Number 66 throughout the lean, losing years all the way to the successful Stanley Cup-winning seasons of the early 1990s. A transplanted Pittsburgher now, I still follow my beloved Pens religiously. Indeed, Christmas came early for me last year when Mario Lemieux, now the owner of the Penguins, announced his return to the game.
I first discovered hockey during that awkward junior high school stage of life. Growing up in the Pittsburgh suburbs, the hockey rink ultimately became my sanctuary, my Plexiglas-and-ice fortress of solitude, where all my pressures, frustrations, and insecurities could seemingly be erased just by strapping on the skates, slapping some pucks on goal, and smacking opposing players into the boards. Of course, anyone who plays the game at some level dreams, even if for an instant, of playing in the National Hockey League.
NHL All-Access! attempts to fulfill those dreams. It eschews the typical highlights-reel compilation of the best hits, fights, saves, and goals in hockey history, and instead presents a you-are-there look at the on-ice encounters. It takes you behind-the-scenes, from the referee's room to the equipment manager's lair, from the emotion-filled locker room all the way to the charged penalty box. NHL All-Access! shows the speedy, read and react, nature of the game, where strategies are shuffled on the fly, not mapped out as pre-set position plays like in American football. You will appreciate the size, speed, finesse, and strength of these players after you're done watching this; you will also be thoroughly entertained in the process.
NHL All-Access! is presented in a full frame transfer. The overall picture quality is okay, but varies considerably from segment to segment depending upon the source material and year that the game footage was gathered from. Thus, it can be very grainy and somewhat blurry at times. Most of it looks about as decent as a regular television broadcast, nothing more. I mean, this won't visually blow you away like a pristine film restoration on DVD, but it is still adequate and acceptable.
On the audio side, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track graces NHL All-Access!. Don't be misled by this, however. Yes, the cheesy, bass-heavy music is explosive and engulfs you in its surroundscape, but the 5.1 channeling is rarely incorporated effectively enough to properly immerse you into the true on-ice hockey experience. The disc also includes a French language version for obvious reasons, eh.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't really have anything too negative to say about this release. Sure, this DVD is loaded with "extras" that are nothing more than glorified promotional fluff pieces culled from the National Hockey League marketing department. And maybe it doesn't totally give the viewer the full, devastating on-ice presentation that the DVD packaging promises. It's also on the short side. Still, NHL All-Access! is a nice overall presentation of the game, shown from a different perspective, and is sure to thrill most hockey fans out there.
Hockey is more than just a sport for talented pros with high-paying contracts playing in cavernous, filled arenas. It is a game for boys and girls who assemble on neighborhood frozen ponds next to icy rural roads. It is a game for school teams who play in cramped, barely heated arenas at odd hours of the night, with nary a spectator in sight. It is a game for middle-aged men who assemble for pick-up games when ice time is available, paying for the privilege of recapturing past glories. Most importantly, hockey is a game for its fans, and NHL All-Access! ably captures this raw emotion and thrilling spectacle that goes into making the sport an obsession for its followers, without simply devolving into a standard highlights-reel compendium.
Take off, you hosers, and pick up a copy of NHL All-Access! on DVD, especially since it can be found at most places for under $20. And while you're at it, tune into some of these exciting NHL playoff broadcasts and discover this great, under-appreciated sport. Its perpetually low television ratings are the only thing criminal here. Case dismissed. Let's Go Pens!
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