While they don’t entertain everyone, organized activities such as baseball, basketball, and hockey play a significant role in the upbringing of children around the world. Writer/director Michael Messner’s documentary, 1st Year Checking, introduces many to the horrifying idea of body checking in hockey and its role in youth leagues. For those not in the know, body checking is when a player drives their shoulder, elbow, and hip into an opposing one at the same time.
Between twelve and thirteen years old is when this move is introduced for the first time. There are often significant discrepancies regarding weight and skill at this age, presenting major issues for some of the smaller, less-experienced players. Messner, who is a hockey coach and father to a player, Grayson, acts as host as he interviews subjects and looks into the ramifications of body checking. As terrors are expressed, the world fully understands, maybe for the first time, the true nature of the beast known as hockey.
Hockey can be dangerous, but fans of the National Hockey League (NHL) rarely appreciate the seriousness of checking and the danger of what these individuals do each and every day. 1st Year Checking takes that danger and amplifies it to the extreme, as these young boys and girls are seen in (potentially) the most vulnerable situations they will ever face. When something has such a massive following, as the NHL does, it’s hard to convince its fans that issues are looming around. Children are the best way to express emotion because few things are worse than seeing a child suffer.
“…introduces many to the horrifying idea of body checking in hockey and its role in youth leagues.”
The subject matter is serious, and viewers are pulled into a world that expresses, over and over again, what horrible things can happen to these just barely teens as they first learn to body check. These situations are nerve-racking and make the viewers most anxious, and there’s no doubt that the film begs viewers to empathize with its subjects. However, simply showing footage of people getting hurt doesn’t seem like enough for Messner to get his message across.
There are times that a violin plays in the background, and, just like the topic of discussion, it adds levels of angst to the proceedings. While not the most subtle, moments like this are what allow 1st Year Checking to find success. Viewers are constantly transported back into a world where danger is always lurking, and things like the music, game footage, and familial spats add to the intensity.
Messner aims to address a subject that most of the world is unaware of, and it appears that with the help of others, his message will reach a large number of people. 1st Year Checking is unique in its approach, and many children may be better off as advocates for change speak out against the reality of hockey. The documentary is engaging, but there are moments when the monotony of simple narration makes it difficult to remain focused. All in all, the filmmaker does a wonderful job, and he presents a lesson to which everyone should be willing to listen.
"…nerve-racking and make the viewers most anxious..."