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Oklahoma City Barons: Oil Change provides unprecedented access to Oilers' organization

In its third season, Oil Change is similar to the NFL's Hard Knocks. There's one major difference. Aquila Productions is granted complete access for the entire hockey season.
By Mike Baldwin Modified: January 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013

photo - Courtesy Aquila Productions Inc.
Courtesy Aquila Productions Inc.

General manager Steve Tambellini discusses draft picks with scouts at the team's headquarters.

Locker room cameras capture strategies before games and raw emotions following a heartbreaking loss or exhilarating win.

Rookies Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall return home to discover grocery items spoiled during a two-week road trip.

Those are just a few examples why Oil Change, a documentary series featuring the Edmonton Oilers, has a cult-like following. Hockey fans are hooked on unprecedented, in-depth, behind-the-scenes footage.

In its third season, Oil Change is similar to the NFL's Hard Knocks. There's one major difference. Aquila Productions is granted complete access the entire hockey season.

“The big thing is fans get access like they've never had before,” said Aquila president Don Metz. “This is not a promotion for the team. It has to have a lot of grit to it. Our crew goes everywhere, even flies on the team charter plane. That creates compelling television.”

Oil Change's third season began Tuesday on Sportsnet in Canada. The first episode will debut in the U.S. on Saturday on the NHL Network. The series has a worldwide audience, although roughly one show a month is aired.

“We had over a million hours of downloads that first year on the Internet,” Metz said. “People were downloading the entire show. It blew everyone's mind.”

This season's first episode has a distinct Oklahoma City flavor. The franchise's young stars, cornerstone players in the rebuilding process, spent three months with the Barons during the NHL lockout.

Aquila's crew shot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Eberle and Hall riding bicycles they purchased at Wal-Mart. One shot shows the Fab Four pedaling around Bricktown to eat at a restaurant.

“It was such a unique situation,” said Mike Beley, camera man/director of the Oklahoma City crew. “For them to get to play together was such a huge asset for the organization. We had to get that on tape. Each year, we're checking on the farm team. This was different with NHL-star-caliber players.”

Metz's sales pitch to the Oilers organization in 2010 was crews would follow a tradition-rich franchise that's fallen on hard times, an organization trying to return to being a Stanley Cup contender.

“At first, there was some hesitation,” Tambellini said. “You're giving access to a lot of sensitive areas that coaches, players and management sometimes aren't comfortable with.”

A one-hour pilot telecast centered around the Oilers debating whether to select Hall with the No. 1 overall pick. The first season featured seven one-hour shows. Last season, there were six episodes. This year, because of the lockout, there will be five.

Locker room scenes are the backbone of each episode. Players and coaches wear microphones on the bench.

What makes the series unique is viewers get a sense of what it's like to be part of a professional sports team with stories like Eberle and Hall learning how to wash clothes their rookie season.

“There's always been a curtain (between teams and the media),” Beley said. “It's such a sacred thing. You want to respect their space. It's been really neat what they've allowed us to do.”


Metz owns three studios in Edmonton and one in Toronto. He's produced documentaries ranging from Canadian Olympic hockey teams to lacrosse and football. Most of his documentaries feature hockey.

Metz, who has been associated with the Oilers since 1979, has been on the broadcast team since 1994. The relationship was vital. But to film such an extensive project, Metz requested unparalleled access.

“We wanted to make sure our stuff would be very unique and of a very high production level,” Metz said. “For 150 days, we have high definition crews that are literally with the team. We're given first access to everything.”

Oil Change was a smashing hit. On March 16 of the first season, 85,000 hours of downloads over a 16-hour period crashed Aquila's system.

“It just kept building and building,” Metz said. “What's been surprising is a lot of our feedback has come from the United States because it airs over and over again on the NHL Network.”

When the series was in its beginning stages, Tambellini attended an American Hockey League game in Rockford, Ill. A fan shouted his name from the concourse. After talking with the fan, Tambellini realized he no longer would live in anonymity like most NHL general managers.

“That really opened my eyes,” Tambellini said. “What's been surprising is when you get into the South, in non-traditional markets, you find out how many people watch it. It's all of North America. And they're not just watching, they're watching intently.”

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