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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 Michael Baldwin Modified: January 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013
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photo - Courtesy Aquila Productions Inc.
Courtesy Aquila Productions Inc.

Oil Change has developed a much larger following than Metz envisioned. Hockey fans live vicariously through million dollar athletes and highly scrutinized coaches and general managers.

“People are interested in every aspect of the team, including stories about these guys away from the ice, their families,” said senior producer Gord Redel. “They know we're going to be authentic. Some players are sent down. Some players suffer injuries. If they're on a losing streak, we're going to talk about that.”

The Oilers endured several losing streaks during Oil Change's first two seasons of filming. Edmonton is a franchise that's won five Stanley Cups. But the Oilers have lost enough games recently that they've owned the No. 1 overall pick the past three seasons.

“We were showing how these guys deal with that,” Metz said. “The last thing these guys want is to have their wounds shown. But we're very careful with that. It's not easy when you're losing a lot of games. But the cameras show all that.

“There's a lot of conflict. These players want to win. But we don't believe we're a negative influence at all. There are a lot of stories to tell. We work with the team to a degree to make sure what we air is OK, but we pretty much have free reign.”

Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson discovered that first season when he made a cameo appearance on Oil Change. Episodes air in Canada a few days before the NHL Network. Nelson's phone is jammed with text messages from friends and relatives.

“It's great for the hockey fan to see what it's like on the farm,” Nelson said. “Last year, they followed us in the playoffs. It's done really well and done very tastefully. They've won awards. It's great exposure for everybody. People enjoy seeing what it's like behind the scenes.”

OIL CHANGE'S FUTURE

Metz said he hopes the series continues until 2016, the year the Oilers start playing in a new downtown arena that was recently approved by the Edmonton city council.

“You would like to think they keep building this team until you win the Cup,” Metz said. “After the team finishes 30th, 30th and 29th it's time that everyone — the management, players and fans — wants to see win-loss improvement. That's the focus this year. Can they get to the playoffs?”

The series has been so successful that six NHL teams have approached Metz to see if it's possible to produce something similar. Most are shocked to discover the manpower needed.

“They're blown away by the level of production required,” Metz said. “Embedding camera crews for 150 days, original music, high-end graphics, research, writing and editing, there's a lot that goes into it.”

Metz raises all the money for Oil Change from broadcast licensing fees and film grants from Canadian federal and provincial programs.

NHL teams in the U.S. would have to pay the bill with sponsors or a team network.

“This doesn't cost the Oilers a penny,” Metz said. “What they give us is full access. We have cameras mounted in the locker room that turn 360 degrees. They forget about us, which is why you get some amazing content.”

Aquila's producers sort through hundreds of hours of footage before splitting each episode into seven “acts.”

“For every hundred minutes we shoot, we might use only one minute,” Metz said. “You do that because you need those money shots.”

One money shot in this year's first episode is of Nail Yakupov skating for the first time at Rexall Place during training camp.

Yakupov was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. The 19-year-old Russian forward is shown starring at banners of Wayne Gretzky, other Oiler Hall of Famers and Stanley Cup titles hanging from the rafters.

“His jaw dropped for 20 or 30 seconds,” Metz said. “We got two different angles. It's one of those magical shots. You have to be there 24/7 to capture that stuff.”

Because of Gretzky's career, the Oilers always had a bandwagon following. Oil Change has attracted additional fans that have invested emotionally the past two seasons.

“We believe it's an interesting story of how we're growing a franchise in a city that's fanatical about hockey,” Tambellini said. “People get some sense of a professional sports team and all the hard work from a coaching staff's preparation, sacrifices by players and planning within the organization.

“There are a lot of people in play, some worldwide, whether it's the NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball. We're just letting people see how we're trying to grow and what we're trying to build. People want to follow the progress. It's exciting for our entire organization.”

by Michael Baldwin
Redhawks, Barons, MLB, NFL Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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