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LEVELS

BY PAUL GAZZOLA

The discordant noise of 18,000 cheering Oilers fans is somehow so harmonious. When reverberating in Rogers Place, the good vibrations create an exhilarating sensation for the players.

In the Oilers Dressing Room, the team's win song elicits a similar thrill. Forty-four times this season it's played and with the way the club is performing, It'll likely be heard again.

It's become a ritual since their first victory of the campaign on October 12, 2016, when they beat their Alberta rivals 7-4. The track is not Grammy-nominated - but the artist is - and its purpose is to spread positivity. Enliven the collective. Keep the heart rates up and atmosphere upbeat by beats per minute.

With a 'W' filed freshly in the win column, the stereo system awakens. Piano keys drop in dance tempo. Joining it is a drum pad tick. The jingle chimes, fusing swing with electric house. The lyrics aren't complex and the vocals don't extend in range but the rhythm is lively.

As excitement hikes, the beat in RedFoo's "Juicy Wiggle" drops.

And celebration erupts.

Under its illuminating logo, the Oilers Dressing Room looks like a small amphitheatre. The area's architectural acoustics even resemble a concert hall. The sector is curved and elegant, with sound waves emitting from the ceiling speakers above the player stalls. Due to the tight enclosure, it's not necessarily ideal for audio but it's an enchanting visual nonetheless. Although built like a country club, there's a clubhouse vibe in this theatre and the music parallels that notion.

It makes for a grand stage and if the Orange & Blue were an orchestra, Matt Hendricks and Darnell Nurse would serve as conductors. The two wield the baton - or iPod - in the dressing room, choosing what songs play when while making sure to interpret tone, establish tempo and resonate with their ensemble each game day. To do that, they have to take into consideration the musical preferences of 25 players.

"It's tough being the DJ," said Nurse, who typically composes hip hop and techno scores. "You have to come with a good playlist before the game."

That's because sports, emotion and music are all interrelated. In unison, they can have an impactful effect on athletes.

"Different songs can enhance or alter our mood and feelings," Brian Fauteux, Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Alberta, said. "Individuals can associate different feelings with different songs."

There's a certain science to it. Sound waves transfer kinetic energy, eventually becoming potential energy. Mechanical movements - a form of potential energy - can increase performance. You just need to strike the right note.

"There are studies that suggest music has a slight effect on performance ability, helping athletes to feel more energized and overcome fatigue through altering their mood," continued Fauteux.

"We feel sound in the body and the body is a key aspect of sports. Music has rhythm and so does the body: its heartbeat and breath."

Which means the hype man's song selection is in the best interest of his mates. In the end, the collective could benefit. "To get the music and the atmosphere in the room going," Nurse said, "I think everyone gets excited."

THE RIGHT NOTE

Music is the universal language but certain dialects speak to certain individuals. Sometimes, it can create factions. The Oil certainly has a few of their own. Some skaters prefer their rock 'n' roll. The rookies and sophomores enjoy their techno and hip hop. There are old-school aficionados. Country music buffs. Electronic fans. A different melody plays in every set of headphones and a hockey roster proves as much.

"The Europeans like their house music," said Hendricks. "Your Western Canadians are big on the country music and then you've got a conglomerate of other guys that like hip hop, rock 'n' roll and heavy metal."

The veteran doesn't scratch vinyl but does take responsibility for the tunes in the morning when the team begins filtering in.

"In the morning, getting ready for the pre-game skate, I just try to keep the mood light and relaxed," said the classic rock and country enthusiast. "Not really trying to get pumped up or excited."

That's done to manage the shifting levels of emotion and intensity that change throughout a game day. Balance is key. Not only in the playlist but also for the players. At the break of dawn, they aren't looking for heightened heart rates, slashing riffs or climactic drops. The group is at ease with soothing notes.

"It's normally chill," said Zack Kassian, who matches his on-ice persona with his choice in music. The energizer treasures his heavy hockey as much as his hard rock and heavy metal. "In the background, we like to listen to some classical stuff and relax," he continued.

It could be anything from country to pop or classic rock during the first part of the day. The ambience is easing.

"One day we had Backstreet Boys," Kassian said.

Inching closer to puck drop, the low-keys are supplanted by upbeat cadences. Hip hop, hard rock and techno begin to take over, indicating Nurse has meddled with the music.

"When I'm in here, it's usually me, Darnell and Lars (Adam Larsson)," said Patrick Maroon. "We get the old-school rap going. Then, once you see the boys start coming in, Hendy comes in and plays a soft song - then we get the one heavy metal song - and then the boys start amping up with the techno."

Tracks by Tiësto, Dzeko and Drake will bump. Mixed in might be some Mötley Crüe or Metallica.

"We got a good mix of stuff in here," said Nurse.

It helps in getting the club alive and excited before they take to the ice for warmups, then the game. Even the player warmup mix - also organized by Nurse, that blares throughout the arena 20 minutes before the final ice flood - is meant to maintain momentum.

"The music is key for warmups," said Maroon. "It gets guys going, gets them getting a little sweat going, gets them jacked up."

Nurse even tried to appease all his teammates when sending in the tracklist. Genres of all sorts are included: Drake for the hip-hop heads; old-school flavour featuring Fat Joe; bars by The Game sway the rap enthusiasts; Galantis and Hardwell for the electronic types.

And of course, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to kick it all off. Because this squad isn't scary enough.

"The louder it is, the better it is," said Maroon.

Synergy in the room spills onto the ice, while the fans - keenly observing and surging with the elation of their own - feed it right back. Once on the skating surface, Nurse and Hendricks can't field requests or choose the songs. Instead, Oilers Director of Event Presentations Rich Meyers and his band take the reins.

GET LOUD

Decibel levels have been rising in Rogers Place of late. Just listen to a post-game walk-off interview. You won't hear a thing. Boisterous chants have begun popping up during the play. The trademark large truck goal horn is muffled by the crowd's celebration. Pretty soon, they might need to add a second. There's no denying it. The volume in the building continues to amplify.

"We want Rogers Place to have the biggest home-ice advantage in the League and anything that we can do to help influence that is a priority," said Meyers.

Once the puck drops and the players are focused on the game, Meyers becomes the mediator of emotion. Tools of all sorts are at his disposal in an effort to manufacture an in-game experience that everyone - players included - can influence and feel.

"Outside of the performance on the ice, music is the one controllable element that has the biggest influence on a fans' in-game experience," Meyers said.

Some of the music he chooses to sound over the speakers is supplied by the players, such as during the warmup set.

"During training camp, we will get a list from the team on songs that they would like to hear during warmups."

Others are subjective and can depend on events transpiring on the ice. There's a reason Rogers Place patrons will hear "Fat Lip (Pain for Pleasure)" by Sum 41 or The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" immediately following a fight.

"We've made a conscious effort as this season has gone on to play tracks that are more situational," Meyers said.

Just like the science of sound and its alternating energies, Meyers has a formula for invoking enthusiasm. He blends patience and context, utilizing both the players and fans all the while stimulating them at the same time.

"I am a firm believer that playing the right song, at the right time, with the right cue point can have a direct impact in energizing our fans," he said. "There is also no doubt in my mind that the players feed off noise… and the more energy the fans can give the players, the more effort the team gives in return."

Basically, It's a reciprocating loop stuck on repeat. One that the players can definitely get on board with. "Hopefully they keep turning it up every night," said Maroon. "We need that music loud and rocking moving forward."