Hockey Unlimited tackles kids’ bodychecking issue head-on

A good documentary does not shy away from issues that are bound to create controversy. Indeed, a good documentary does not shy away from issues that already are controversial, either.

But, at the same time, a good documentary is perfectly willing to give voice to all sides in the argument.

Hockey Unlimited is a very good documentary.

Episode 7 that aired Monday on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for later (see schedule below), opened with a serious look at an issue that has split Canada’s hockey community beyond belief. When should young players be permitted to engage in bodychecking?

Hockey Canada says not before they’ve outgrown their peewee level.

The Saskatchewan hockey association says not so.

Hockey Canada is basing its decision on parents’ fears. Those fears are based on NHL-level hits, repeated on television in super-slow motion over and over again, ad nauseam. We all know the consequences of such events, often career-ending, and quite frequently having dreadful impacts on players’ lives long after their careers have ended.

As Tom Renney – who heads Hockey Canada – put it, his organization is responsible to its members. As it should be, of course.

Except, Saskatchewan hockey people say they are responsible to their members, too, and their members agree with their view that teaching kids this age the art of bodychecking will make their later hockey lives easier for them.

The Saskatchewan hockey people support their views with findings from sports medicine experts, including specialists in kinesiology. They say what kids need is for someone to teach them the art of safe bodychecking. And they’re not merely talking about it. They are holding clinics for coaches, teaching them how to teach bodychecking right.

It seems the gap is in the definition. Where Hockey Canada sees bodychecking as a martial art always linked with a huge hit that sends the victim head-first into the boards or the victim performing a salto mortale (full somersault) in the middle of the ice surface, Saskatchewan hockey association sees it as an ability to insert one’s body between the opposing puck carrier and the puck, with the objective of taking the puck away.

Hockey Unlimited does not go out to say so openly: it is a documentary, after all. But it gives its viewers sufficient amount of information to form their own decision.

Speaking of peewee hockey, its international tournament in Quebec City is now 55 years old and still going strong.

Hockey Unlimited’s segment on this event doesn’t show us only what’s going on on the ice inside the Colisee. It takes us backstage and introduces us to numerous volunteers who make the tournament the success that it has been since its inception in 1960.

They don’t use fancy computers to capture and type-out everything. An old typewriter has seen such names as Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos among the 1,200 players who would excel in the NHL. It still works when volunteers are typing out game sheets. The idea is simple and straightforward: why spend money on office equipment when you can spend it on making your players’ experience unforgettable?

The players are happy that they play against some strong opposition, and that they play in front of thousands of fans who fill the seats in the good, old Colisee, no matter who’s playing whom. Considering, especially, that many of them are used to playing whenever their local arenas are free, in front of their parents and closest family members only, seeing such huge crowds borders on the overwhelming, but it’s wonderful fun, the players say.

And you can feel everybody’s enthusiasm just come across from the Colisee right into your living room (or wherever you’re watching).

Just as you can feel the enthusiasm coming across from players who brave blizzards and crazy temperatures to play hockey at the self-styled World Pond Hockey Championships.

Official pomposity purists might suggest it would have to be happening under the auspices of the International Ice Hockey Federation ((IIHF) to be able to call itself the world championships, but participants do not care. The more players come, the merrier. That’s all that matters. And they DO come from all over the world, with the possible exception of the Antarctica. Come to think of it, how many teams from that continent have we seen at IIHF events, anyhow?

It’s a beer-league event to end all beer-league events, attracting players from all over the world. Staged on the Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the number of players easily doubles the number of people who live there. That the beer flows quite freely is quite obvious when the teams face the camera to introduce themselves, but the hockey is free-wheeling, too, and the handshakes and hugs that follow the games are genuine.

And when the weather gets worse, and the temperatures dip, so much the better, the Aquila Productions documentary shows. How many people can claim they scored a game-deciding goal in a blizzard with temperatures hovering around mins-30 Celsius?

You can add to it another question: how many camera crews would brave these elements the way the Aquila Productions’ crew has? After all, these guys weren’t keeping warm skating, and in good mood drinking beer. They were there to document others doing it, and what a great job of documenting they have done!

Useful tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills tips from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny have become Hockey Unlimited’s tradition; they make the show complete.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One
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