What ails the Oilers? Oil Change looks for a diagnosis

So what is this thing called professionalism all about, anyway?

Does it mean that whoever performs whatever job gets paid for it, and that’s it?

Not one bit of that.

Professionals, real professionals, that is, are paid to perform their jobs to certain standards, day in, day out. They never ever sink so low as to perform under that set standard. And true professionals accept, too, that once they exceed a standard, that becomes the new standard that they have to perform to day in and day out.

That’s what professionalism is all about.

And that’s what the fifth episode of Oil Change is all about, too.

It aired early evening Sunday on Sportsnet, with first set of repeats scheduled for broadcast for Monday, March 17, thus:

Sportsnet EAST & ONTARIO – 12 a.m./ET

Sportsnet WEST – 9 p.m//MT

The fifth segment of Oil Change opens with assistant coach Steve Smith and Oilers captain Andrew Ference leading young Edmonton kids through a hockey practice, while the Stanley Cup (the REAL thing) arrives in their dressing room. The kids’ expressions upon their return to their dressing room to see every hockey player’s dream trophy right there – where they can touch it and have their pictures taken with it – are priceless.

And so are the gems of wisdom Smith and Ference share with them. They speak of years of self-sacrifice, of hard work, of team work, and of individual effort, and their words carry substantial weight. Both their names are engraved on the cup, after all.

Cut: Ference and new arrival Matt Hendricks are trying to define what has gone wrong with their team that many (local fans, at least) thought would be contending from now onwards all the way to eternity, to say the least.

Judging by the fact each of the two speaks in different environments, it would be quite safe to assume they are expressing themselves independently of one another. And yet, what they are saying and how they are saying it can hardly be much more similar.

What the Oilers lack is consistency, Ference and Hendricks agree. While they concede that some would say that it may be due to youthful exuberance, they reject this notion forthwith.

Here, they are perfectly in tune with their head coach. Dallas Eakins told all and sundry prior to the opening of this season last October that he hated anybody calling this club young. It would be a built-in excuse, he insisted, and he could hardly be more perfectly right.

Hendricks put it best: it’s one thing to play beautiful attacking hockey in your opponents’ zone, but that alone doesn’t win you hockey games. Playing from one backboard all the way to the other, with the entire team subscribing to this plan, that is the only way. From the way he said it it seems not all members of the team’s “talented future core” have yet signed on the dotted line that this would be the only way they would be playing from now on. As Hendricks put it, that would be the only way to play hockey the right way.

Neither Ference nor Hendricks did (or could) offer ways how to solve this conundrum. Neither of them holds a doctorate in group psychology, either.

But what they said was serious enough to force the other guys on the team to sit up and take notice.

A serious documentarist must be able to know what it is that is the most important issue concerning their subjects.

Aquila Productions crews quite obviously are keenly aware of the biggest issue the Oilers face. They approached what they kindly called “lack of consistency,” but what some others might call less charitably “lack of professionalism.” They tackled it with all seriousness. It couldn’t have been too easy for the two veterans, either, to speak on the record as frankly and sincerely as they had.

Hats off to both sides: the people in front of the camera, and those behind it, too.

The fifth episode of Oil Change captures much more than game highlights or unusual behind-the-scenes occasions. The meeting coach Eakins arranged for his young defenceman Martin Marincin, to meet Boston Bruins’ (and Team Slovakia Olympic squad) captain Zdeno Chara was touching, and so was the visit by a couple of Oilers’ players with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in his New York office. And the scenes surrounding the wheeling and dealing around deadline day were breathtaking.

Thanks to the Olympic break, the Oilers’ management, and an Aquila Productions crew, hopped on the chance to spend some useful time with the Oilers’ farm team, the Oklahoma City Barons. Some eye-opening conversations with players most in the know view as coming up to Edmonton in the very near future. Open, frank insights from Barons’ coach Todd Nelson, as well as observations from Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish.

All of this leaves the viewer much better informed.

But the gist of it all was and is elsewhere.

Such as: where are the Oilers going? Are they aware of the challenges they face with their consistent inconsistency that only a most forgiving person would describe as a sign of immaturity? Do they realize that they happen to have a window of opportunity right now because two of their most respected players have recognized the trouble and are willing to risk their necks by talking about it openly?

This episode, as has become the series’ habit, has turned the spotlight on the issues, with its usual mastery of their television documentary craft.

For fear of repeating oneself: crisp camera, sharp editing, a lot of action (it’s hockey, after all, the fastest team game on earth), no overwhelming verbiage, great music selection, authentic sound.

And an insight into a hockey team to end all insights into a hockey team.

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