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Bruce Boudreau, Dan Bylsma’s personalities may shine in HBO’s 24/7 series, which premieres tonight

Dec 15, 2010, 5:20 PM EDT

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If you ask people around the game of hockey, most will probably admit that – for all the game’s many strengths, including the character of its players – it’s not very often that we get to learn much about how much character each player and coach displays.

Most of the time, the game’s biggest stars either lean heavily on cliches (like Sidney Crosby) or struggle a bit considering the fact that English isn’t their first language (like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin). Sure, every now and then a vibrant talker comes along like Patrick Kane or Jeremy Roenick, but most of the time an interview only illuminates a person’s expertise in saying exactly what the PR staff wants to hear.

Getting to know two of the league’s most talented young teams is one of the main reasons that people are so excited about HBO’s “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic.” (The other being that it’s HBO, the network that seems like it has a Midas touch right now.)

While there will be some interesting chats with oddballs such as Maxime Talbot, the true stars could end up being coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma. Chris Botta of the New York Times’ Slap Shot blog provides an inside look at the series, which premieres tonight on HBO at 10 pm ET.

If this four-act play features enough drama, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin could see their fame extend beyond hockey nation. The teams both have plenty of funny and insightful “character actors,” from Pascal Dupuis and Eric Godard in Pittsburgh to Brooks Laich and D.J. King in Washington, who will undoubtedly emerge as leading players.

Although the eminently quotable Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was picked by most pundits to become the breakout star of “24/7,” watch out for the man behind the home team bench. Despite leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, Dan Bylsma is far from a household name — even in Pittsburgh. But he is an original thinker, a charismatic figure and more than a little quirky. So far, he has enjoyed the HBO life.

“We’ve encouraged the guys to make the most of the experience,” Bylsma said of having every word and image captured for broadcast. “This is something we’ll look back on years from now and appreciate. We’re going to enjoy the moment.”

I worked with Bylsma for one season when he was an assistant coach with the Islanders in 2003-4. Although assistants are more comfortable to be themselves than the head coach, Bylsma is quite the free spirit. If, as advertised, HBO’s cameras will be everywhere around the Penguins for these four weeks, you’ll get to see what I mean.

It should be a lot of fun to watch.

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