1st Year Checking (2020)

I lost my teeth playing hockey and I’m still dealing with it thirty years later, with painful implants being removed and redone, and I never made it to any high level. So that made me think about the kids in this movie — which shows how little kids who love hockey go from playing a clean game to suddenly learning about checking when they are twelve — who must learn violence quickly. The issue is that learning violence changed my life. I would not be the man I am today without hockey — and MMA and pro wrestling and fighting — and so while I worry for the young kids in this movie, I also realize that a fundamental part of growing up as a man in our society is learning how to fight. I have been this coach — in wrestling — that worries about my kids while also forearming them in the face until they bleed, pushing them harder than they thought they would be pushed and being proud when I heard both how respectful and how absolutely violent my kids are.

So it’s strange to listen to director and writer Michael Messner deal with what it’s like to not only coach his son Grayson in youth hockey, but to realize that he is coaching young boys as they grow into men and suddenly add size and, yes, the ability to do long-lasting physical harm to one another.

This is a movie that some will be upset by. Some will be interested in this story. And others will say, “That’s how boys become men.”

Hockey may not be as important in the U.S., but in Canada, it’s the same as football. We’re sending little kids out to be gladiators. And then again, like I said, without discovering my body’s ability to withstand punishment, I wouldn’t have the confidence that I have today. Then again, I may like to be able to turn my neck and not wake up in pain.

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