Oil Change sets a new standard, and it’s pretty high

As the Oil Change series goes, this one takes the cake.

Broadcast Friday night on CityTV, to be repeated Sunday at 11 p.m. on Sportsnet West, this season’s first installment, titled Overdrive, begins where the last season’s Oil Change ended: at the end of last season.

A lot has happened between then and now, and this season’s opener takes us on an incredible journey, looking at the twists and turns and turning points we, mere mortals, wouldn’t have seen and known without this show.

Aquila Productions’ people, creators of Oil Change, have obviously won a lot of confidence from the Oilers. The club now knows they have never abused this confidence, shown in unprecedented access to what is going on behind the scenes.

Just a few examples: we witness a serious between-you-and-me-and-the-lamppost conversation between general manager Steve Tambellini and his chief scout, Stu MacGregor. The topic: why the chief scout is of the view that the club’s Number 1 draft selection has got to be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and nobody else. The train of thought in and of itself is interesting, but the fact Oil Change people were privy to the conversation to the extent they could record it and broadcast it, now, this is perfectly surprising.

A conversation between Steve Tambellini and last year’s No. 1, Taylor Hall, during the draft, in which the top pooh-bah explains his strategy to his rising star, is an eyeopener, too.

This season, there was an unusual twist of fortune for Oil Change creators: three of former Oilers’ kids got drafted that day, too. Frank Musil’s son David went to the Oilers as No. 21, Kevin Lowe’s son Keegan went to Carolina as No. 73, and Craig Simpson’s son Dillon stays home in Edmonton at No. 92. To see these former greats as happy dads rather than as hockey professionals made for pretty good television.

We saw team brass negotiating about potential free agency deals last year, too, but that was from a bit of a distance. This time, we get as close as possible to seeing (and hearing) how the team managed to land Eric Belanger and Darcy Hordichuk.

And we saw that Steve Tambellini is about much more than just finding players and signing them, or trading them, or trading for them, or sending them down to the minors, or calling them up. Remember the incident in an exhibition game in Minnesota where Taylor Fedun broke his leg trying to chase the puck for an icing call? An Oil Change camera caught Tambellini standing alone in a corridor, talking to someone on his cell phone, confirming that young Fedun would be staying in the Minnesota hospital a few days before being allowed to fly back to Edmonton, and then telling whoever was on the other end of the call to please make sure the Oilers bring Fedun’s parents down so they can be with their son at this difficult time. Now, that was a touch of humanity if there ever was one. And, unlike such would-be reality shows like Survivor, this wasn’t staged or rehearsed. This happened. In real life.

There are more such moments in this version of Oil Change.

From a professional point of view, one of the things that catch the eye is the ability of the show’s creators to adjust the pace of the story they’re showing on the screen to the story they are telling. Face-paced where the story calls for it, they don’t hesitate to go for longer takes and slower cuts in spots where viewers deserve (and need) to get enough time to be able to absorb what they see on the screen.

And, as is usual for great television, they let the pictures do the talking, rather than overwhelming their viewers with too much commentary. So far as the sound is concerned, reality and great (but not overwhelming) music selections should suffice. They do.

What comes across loud and clear is the Oilers’ coaching staff’s basic philosophy. Head coach Tom Renney sounds like a teacher, one of those types who insist they’re strict but fair. Players might agree with the strictness part but, some of them, at least, might be (privately) inclined to raise an eyebrow or two about the fairness part. Especially those who think they deserve more ice time, or they don’t deserve to be healthy scratches, never mind being demoted.

In his first speech to the troops as the main training camp opens, Renney tells the assembled 70-plus hopefuls to remember that if they think that good enough is good enough, they’re terribly wrong.

And, during a drill in practice, Renney tells a player he mustn’t be surprised by anything at all. He must be ready for anything and everything.

That says it all, doesn’t it?

This season’s opener for Oil Change has set the bar pretty high. It’s a great documentary, unbelievably good television, and the Oilers should be counting their lucky stars to have this talented Aquila Productions group on their side.

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