1st Year Checking director Michael Messner takes the viewer on a journey through the eyes of a 12-year-old hockey player and all the complications that befall them in their supposedly innocent sport.
Michael Messner may have never directed any films before, but he has nearly 25 years of production credits (mainly in smaller productions). The process of getting this film off the ground came about due to his son, 12-year-old Grayson, getting involved in youth hockey and Michael realising just how dangerous the sport can be. So, he whipped out the camera and documented Grayson’s first year as a youth hockey player, and goodness, it is eye-opening.
1st Year Checking is an important documentary film that shines the spotlight on a typically unknown or ignored aspect of kids sports; just how violent it can be. Many parts of this documentary are spent showing Grayson and his father and friends gearing up for a game and the aftermath, with Grayson and some of his teammates needing surgery after participating in the violent sport of Check Hockey.
While the subject matter of this documentary is fascinating and shocking enough to warrant an entire film about it, there are large swathes of the running time that feel like padding. For example, there are many interviews with sports scientists, analysts, researchers, and industry experts that intersect with Messner’s footage. While some of these are straight to the point and genuinely interesting to watch, the majority go on far too long and end up ruining the at times breakneck pace of the film.
Messner’s lack of experience is felt here, with the film not really having much to say other than “look at how shocking and violent kids sports can be”. Once that message is shown, there is not much else this documentary has to offer. However, Messner’s skills as a documentarian are the highlight from a technical aspect. The hockey games have great coverage, and we get to spend a lot of time with his son, which are the shining elements of this otherwise patchy documentary.
1st Year Checking is a good effort from a first time director and an interesting story to witness, especially if you had no prior interest or investment in this wild side of sports and our children’s lives. A better pace and more focus on the human aspects of this story would have made it more enjoyable. Hopefully, Messner’s next effort improves on these abovementioned elements, as the potential is definitely there.
The film won the Best Sports Documentary award at the Toronto Film Channel awards in 2021.