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In light of recent events, Edmonton's training and medical staff has come under greater scrutiny than ever before. Though the trainers have been the butt of an ongoing joke within the Oilogosphere for some time now, Sheldon Souray, Pat Quinn and Steve Tambellini have combined to shine a whole new light on what's going on behind the scenes in Edmonton.
Souray started the flood of headlines when, in his interview with Mark Spector, he said that he was pressured to play while he was still injured by "management." As I noted when I reviewed that interview:
Souray is very careful to praise Ken Lowe for his diligence and follow-up, and considering the abuse that Lowe takes in the 'sphere, it's interesting that Souray put that defense out there first - effectively cutting off any retreat that management could have made on the communication aspect of his second injury of the season.
After Souray got done filleting management and praising the medical staff, Pat Quinn decided to blame the departed training staff, specifically Chad Moreau. In an interview with Derek Van Diest in the Edmonton Sun, Quinn said:
Four years ago they made a change in the person that leads training [Chad Moreau] and since that time, the spike started to come in the injury levels. That’s just an observation. That may be legit or it may not be, but we have to look at it and see what we’re doing.
This weekend's big news is that Steve Tambellini decided it was time for a change in the medical staff and dismissed Ken Lowe along with the locker room staff. Never before in Edmonton history have the guys with the smaller blurbs in the media guide been the subject of so many front page articles.
All of this makes Mayors Manor's interview with Chad Moreau, much more interesting. In it, Moreau discusses the 05-06 team, his relationship with Craig MacTavish, remaking the Oilers and he responds to Pat Quinn's suggestion that he was behind the injuries. After the jump, a look at some of the interesting items from the interview.
The Oilers have never been known as a cutting-edge team - fans like to make fun of the fact that the organization has never moved on from the 1980's, the "Boys On The Bus" era - so it comes as no surprise that when Craig MacTavish asked Moreau to become part of the organization in 2005, training wasn't a top priority. While most teams had responded to the training revolution in the 90's, the Oilers were still in the dark ages. According to Moreau:
The weight room was very small, I'd guess maybe a 500-750 square foot room. It had a very low ceiling with a bunch of pipes overhead. For example, Chris Pronger couldn't even push a bar over his head without crashing the plates into a pipe overhead....So, we had this horrible - tiny, tiny - training room. We couldn't even put the whole team in there at one time. We had to work out in shifts, with half the guys working out before practice and the other half after because we just couldn't fit everybody in the tiny room we had. I even had to bring equipment in for them, just so we had enough stuff.
Moreau remade the Oilers facilities and with the help of Chris Pronger introduced a regular training and fitness regimen, including training days spent away from the ice. Moreau also spent time on the Oilers' nutritional needs. Though most teams had begun to understand what kind of menu was necessary to fuel the highest-level athletes in the world, the Oilers again were stuck in the cheeseburgers, pack of smokes and a six-pack for dinner days of the 80's:
When I first came to the team I was shocked at what they were eating on the planes. I couldn't believe what guys were eating, so I went to work right away with some changes. It didn't make me the most popular guy though...especially with the staff guys, believe it or not. We did away with the processed meats and garbage...we were doing more fruits and salads.
But Pronger's departure made it harder for Moreau to maintain his program in Edmonton and the following years saw the team move away from their regimen. According to Moreau, even Craig MacTavish, the man that asked him to come aboard in the first place, didn't have conditioning at the top of his priority list with such a young team:
When they lost some of the veteran players starting in around 2007 they wanted to spend more time on the ice with their younger players. I would talk with MacTavish - who I always had a great working relationship with...we needed to spend time in the weight room like the first season I was there...So, I think one thing that happens when a team starts to panic, when they start losing some games - especially if they have a younger line-up...they start spending so much time on the ice the players start to lose some of that strength base that they built up in the off season. You really start to see this in the second half of the season and into the playoffs. In fact, I saw this with the Oilers. When I was with the team we would do mid-season testing and their testing scores would be significantly lower than when they first came into training camp on day one. I would express my concern to the training staff...that this could not only lead to decreased performance, but higher injury potential.
Our resident Biomechanics expert, Doogie2K, followed up on Moreau's comments:
If guys are really spending next to no time in the weight room, that is in fact a problem, because no matter how much you do on the ice, you’re not necessarily working the muscles you have to work at the level you have to work them to maintain the strength necessary to absorb some of the blows these guys take.
If the theory is correct, and there are professions built on the fact that it is, the lack of training is what has been hurting the Oilers now, as it was in the dark years before 2005. So it's surprising that Pat Quinn would step in to blame the guy that was asking for more time in the training facilities. I'm not sure if it's a case of Quinn trying to turn Moreau into a scapegoat or Quinn not understanding the situation that he was commenting on. Moreau handled the question from Mayor's Manor, and Quinn's quasi-allegation in an extremely gentlemanly manner:
First off, let me say that I've never met Pat Quinn or had a chance to speak with him about this. However, to criticize the strength and conditioning coaches I think is unfair. The coach needs to share some of the blame in that because a team that isn't fit by the end of the year...the coaching staff has the ultimate control over how much time a player spends in the weight room. So, I somewhat look at that with a grain of salt.
There is much more in the interview, including Moreau's take on the Souray situation. It was excellent work by Mayor's Manor, and well worth a read. Moreau unknowingly confirms what many fans have suspected since the end of the cup years, namely, the Oilers were and are a backwards organization. They were fifteen years late to the fitness and nutrition revolution in professional hockey and couldn't hold to it for more than a year. Rather than care for and provide the best environment for their assets, the Oilers were stuck in the Punch Imlach school of working harder to overcome injury.
The interview also suggests a possible reason behind Steve Tambellini sacking Ken Lowe. If Lowe was part of the organization that had yet to make changes since 1990, or was unwilling to do so, then Lowe was having as much, maybe more, of a negative impact on the organization as the poor training and nutrition practices were. If Lowe's methods were twenty years old, as the organization's take on fitness and nutrition was, then Tambellini rightfully removed Lowe from his position.