The 2016 Winter Classic between the Bruins & Canadiens is almost upon us and the excitement is growing by the second. The Epix series “Road To The Winter Classic” has helped build the hysteria for this winter hockey spectacle.
Boston Sports Then & Now spoke with writer Aaron Cohen to get some insight on the Winter Classic series and his journey in sports media:
Boston Sports Then & Now: What makes the Winter Classic so special when it comes to telling the story leading up to the event?
Aaron Cohen: I think its uniqueness. I have a friend who always talks about how “unique” is a word people overuse, but I think in this case, it totally holds up. I don’t know if I can think of anything in any other sport that really compares — from taking the game back to its roots … to creating a really, really cool spectacle at all these venues … and much more. And then, in terms of the documentary series, it also offers a new story — or really, two new stories — every year. We’re catching two teams in the middle of the season, and with all our access, we get the opportunity to give hockey fans four hours behind the curtain, on and off the ice. We take that opportunity seriously, and really try to pack as much as we can into every episode.
BST&N: How did you get involved in the Winter Classic in general?
AC: I actually was at the first Winter Classic in Buffalo in 2008, working on NBC’s production team. Then, three years later, HBO created the 24/7 series. Having written all the 24/7 boxing series, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work on the Pens-Caps show. And then when the show moved to Epix, Ross Greenburg, the producer of the series who had created the show when he was at HBO, brought me along to be part of his team.
BST&N: I see on your IMDb that you have worked with the event all the way back to the Pens-Caps in 2010. How has the series changed over the years?
AC: I think in the first few seasons of the show, it was a new experience for everyone — from the producers to the players and the coaches. Now, with this being the fifth installment of the series — and then there have also been the Stadium Series shows — everyone knows what to expect a little bit more. For us on the production team, that means the degree of difficulty is raised a bit. How do we deliver original segments? How do we cover the games in new ways? How do we go through some of the familiar plot points — from hot streaks and slumps to holiday break — with a fresh eye? These are all the things we are constantly thinking about.
BST&N: Why did you get involved in sports media? When was that moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do for your career?
AC: I was very lucky — I got an internship at ABC Sports when I was in college, and met some producers who helped me keep my foot in the door and mentored me for years. Before that internship, I hadn’t really thought about working in sports for a living — even though I was always a sports nut. It was almost too good to be true: you could get paid for working on sports television shows? Then, as I progressed through the business, I found my passion within the sports media world — telling stories, and working on documentaries like this series.
BST&N: One non Winter Classic related question, how was it working on Courtship of Rivals? I am a huge Larry Bird fan and that era was just magical for sports fans not just basketball fans.
AC: It was great. The director of that documentary, Ezra Edelman, is an amazing filmmaker. To me, what makes that film great are some things that don’t show up in the box score, so to speak — the way Ezra structured that story, and the interviews he did with Magic and, in particular, Bird. I don’t think there’s ever been a better on-camera interview that Larry Bird has ever done. I was fortunate Ezra asked me to help him with the writing of the film; I’ve been involved in lots of documentaries, but that’s one that people always have great things to say about — in Boston, LA, and beyond.
BST&N: At your time going to school at Harvard, what did you learn about the people of New England?
AC: I think the word that stands out is “pride.” Growing up in the New York area, on Long Island, I (perhaps predictably) had a pretty provincial view of the world. Then, spending four years in New England, I definitely learned how much pride people there take in their identity and heritage — and of course also their sports teams. I still have a lot of fondness for the area, and it’s been a blast writing about the Bruins over the last few weeks … even if I have to remain neutral heading into the game! It should be a great event for New England, and for hockey, and I’m looking forward to it.
Thanks to Aaron Cohen for his time and bringing us the hockey eye candy that is the Road to the Winter Classic.
Be sure to catch it on Wednesdays on Epix.com!