Was October a month from hell? Oil Change lets you be the judge

If the Edmonton Oilers ever become as good as the documentary series, Oil Change, that has been following them for the last four years, they’d be sitting pretty on top of NHL standings.

The second episode of this season’s show aired on Sportsnet Sunday night. As has been the network’s habit, we can expect repeats throughout the month, till time for the next episode comes in December. Viewers south of the 49th parallel can catch it on the NHL Network. Come to think of it, it airs on NHL Network in Canada from time to time, too.

October was a month from hell for the Oilers, and Oil Change doesn’t sugarcoat it. But its behind-the-scenes looks do give us a key to a more detailed understanding of what does and what doesn’t ail the club. After all, most Oilers’ fans had known for a fact that their beloved team has turned the corner, at long last. Not that we should begin sketching Stanley Cup parade routes right away, but the optimism was palpably there, and pre-season games seemed to confirm it was well-founded.

Guess what: it wasn’t, and experts who warned in their pre-season assessments that the Oilers still had a ways to go must have noticed something that the fans haven’t.

What was it?

Oil Change lets head coach Dallas Eakins try his own explanation. Whether it is really valid, Oil Change wouldn’t say. It is a documentary, after all, not a soapbox for commentators.

In any case, according to Eakins, some of the system changes might be difficult to adjust to as it is, and players’ muscle memories might encounter hard times trying to do the coach’s bidding. As he put it, a player might be trying as hard as he can to do what his coaches told him to do, but – from time to time – he might slip to old and tried habits whether they used to be successful or not. That, says Eakins, is quite understandable. Changing muscle memory simply takes time.

To the show’s credit, not all is doom and gloom.

Joey Moss celebrates his 50th birthday, and Oilers’ players prepare a celebration in style: they gather in Ryan Smyth’s house and surround a wrestling rink where two professionals fight, much to Moss’s enjoyment: professional wrestling is his second-most popular spectator sport.

Much laughter and joy. So much laughter and joy, in fact, that a viewer might ask: are these guys whistling as they walk past the graveyard?

Not really: they go out and deliver a present that Joey Moss must be enjoying the most: down by three, on home ice, to boot, they end up defeating the New Jersey Devils, vanquishing Martin Brodeur in the shootout.

It is most unfortunate that they do not continue winning on a more consistent basis.

All the nibs are in agreement that what ails the Oilers at the moment is inconsistent defence and even more inconsistent goaltending. Oil Change investigates whether the U.S. Marines are coming, and if so, when and whence. Its Aquila Productions crew visits the Oilers’ AHL farm team in Oklahoma City just in time to witness how its group of young defencemen is settling down, signing living quarters leases, practicing and playing. The Barons’ GM Bill Scott is of the view that some of his club’s defencemen are getting quite close to being ready for the show, while head coach Todd Nelson provides further details.

Young defencemen Milan Marincin and Oscar Klefbom tell us what the Oilers’ coaches have asked them to do to get ready for the show.

An almost forgotten name pops up: Oil Change visits with goalie Tyler Bunz. He is now playing for the Bakersfield Condors of Bakersfield, California, an ECHL affiliate of the Oilers. The 2012 Del Wilson Trophy winner for the best goaltender in the WHL (Medicine Hat Tigers), picked 121st player overall by the Oilers in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft, is even more removed from the NHL than his colleagues in Oklahoma City, but he’s fighting hard, with his eyes firmly set on his life goal: making the Oilers.

One trend where this season’s Oil Change differs monumentally from its previous three seasons: its crews spend more time with individual players outside of the rink, telling us their stories.

Many might have heard of Andrew Ference’s obsession with the environment, but watching him work in his basement, preparing the right mix for compost to be used in his backyard next spring, now, that’s a sight. And spending time with him and school children, with whom he shares a presentation on what happens to our garbage after it’s been taken away by garbage trucks, as enlightening a scene as can be.

Also: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins meets his brother Adam in Montreal. Adam is five years older than the Oilers’ young centre. He studies kinesiology (some describe it as treatment by movement) at Concordia University. He also became a regular defenceman on the school’s hockey team, Concordia Stingers. As a walk-on, too.

The older brother helped his younger sibling with his rehabilitation practices over the summer, trying to help him recover from a shoulder surgery. But, they both agreed, laughingly, other than that, they’ve always competed. And Ryan says it was his older brother’s example that made him the player he is today.

Many a fan is asking: what’s wrong with Nail Yakupov? This segment features the two games that his coach sent him to watch from the press box, but Oil Change found Slava Malamud, a Russian journalist with the Sport-Express newspaper who attended a few Oilers’ games. Malamud has been watching Yakupov since the young phenom’s junior years, and he offers some precious insights.

This episode is, again, a fast-paced production, filled with the sounds of the game, including the chatter on and off the bench (sub-titled, on occasion, so we know precisely what is said), great music selection, only a few words of narration, sharp camera work and editing.

Great entertainment, not only for those who love hockey in general, and the Edmonton Oilers, in particular. A fascinating teaching tool to help us understand what makes a team tick (and what doesn’t, too).

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