During a point towards the end of this year's opening "Becoming Wild" episode, Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck is walking around his hometown Welland, Ontario arena. As Cal is marveling at the 1940s Toronto Star clock which still stands and discussing his hockey memories, he's doing it on a rink with no ice which stands out. It's the closest we get to seeing actual hockey or any discussed as this year's six-episode Becoming Wild series shifts its focus from management to players.
There isn't anything wrong with the switch because simply there has been a need for Wild broadcaster Fox Sports North and the team themselves to promote their players. It's one aspect that got lost in the shuffle of season 1 - outside of the Draft episode, there were few moments showing and talking about players who finished 2010-2011 on Minnesota. Instead, the series focused on General Manager Chuck Fletcher bringing in new head coach Mike Yeo and the preparations his staff undertook for the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul and subsequent free agency period.
Now seeing the second series build on the steps of 18 webisodes profiling players feels like a natural extension of the original six episodes. Following Clutterbuck around Welland as he works out with trainer Stacey Gouch to an 80s montage gives both casual and hardcore fans a look into the dedication it takes for a hockey player to remain in tip-top physical shape. Cal finds numerous ways to push himself, which includes wearing #78 Wild shorts rather than his familiar twenty-two, before finishing up with some fun: a soccer shootout.
The work-hard, play-hard attitude continues with Clutterbuck spending time on his second summer home, the golf course. While the competitive nature of a NHL player shines during the skins game, he is able to have fun riding around in a #22 golf cart and Cal looks like someone fans would love to have a beer with at the bar he visits.
And that's big. Clutterbuck comes away from his episode more likable and human compared to the 200lb hit machine who dabbles in mustache greatness. By the time the action goes back to la casa de Clutterbuck, the helmet and pads are off. Cal is not one of many hockey players who play for the team; he's a guy who likes Tim Horton double-doubles and I was invested in his guitar playing and hat collection. I even liked learning about the Welland Canal. That was one thing which the short time of the webisodes worked against and where the Wild TV production crew succeeded.
At other times, however, individual segments felt like they could could be another webisode and had no bearing on the upcoming season. "Becoming Wild" is promoting next year (Lockout pending) and without any context, this could have almost been shown during the season. It is great to see a fan favorite showing off his half sleeve outside the workplace but at the end of the day those fans are watching because they are interested in the player on the ice when the season starts.
The original series, which felt like the management end of HBO's 24/7, paid off in making the team feel new and fresh after apathy had set in and introduced a casual audience to the guys in charge and the future (including the team's prospects). This episode went in the opposite direction outside of a few constants like narration and opened the curtain a little to shine a different light onto one of Minnesota's more intriguing players.
The end result was where a lot of the individual segments worked to the point I would love to see these continue throughout the season (Lockout pending) even if it is in webisode form. In theory FSN could show them as a pregame or intermission segment but other Twin Cities sports teams have their own half-hour magazine style show. Minnesota can improve on promoting their players alongside the Wild brand and "Becoming Wild" achieves that with an episode that goes behind the scenes "MTV Cribs" style.
However, for a show during the most exciting off-season in club history to fully ignore hockey like a few of the season one episodes ignored Minnesota's present leaves much to be desired. I applaud the folks behind the series for adding the biggest thing missing from the first series but the two best go together. It doesn't have to cut back and forth with Fletcher or Yeo and the NHL player showcased. Even just a short segment where Cal talks about the upcoming season or the addition Zach Parise and Ryan Suter bring would be enough.
As much as the Minnesota Wild players need to be promoted and humanized like Cal Clutterbuck in episode one, showing too much is like having an ice hockey rink without ice.