Hockey is an obsession in Quebec. Almost everyone in the province is a fan or player of the sport. As such every young boy in the province dreams of becoming a professional hockey player. In order to reach the dream of one day being drafted into the NHL many play their junior hockey (ages 16-20) in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. One of the teams in that league is the Baie-Comeau Drakkars. This documentary by directors Isabelle Lavigne and Stephane Thibault follows that team around for the 2005-06 season.
We follow players, agents, coaches, scouts, trainers, shareholders, and team management over the course of the entire season. An interesting choice made by the two directors is that they show no game footage. The view we get is of the game off the ice. Really makes you focus in on the young men here and focuses its attention for the most part on the business side of hockey. Bottom line is that all the teams in the league are businesses first and that is how they are run. Not much thought is put into the human element here – the players. The owners, shareholders and management team are all looking to have a successful QMJHL team and that, for them, means winning which means tickets, sweaters and other stuff sold.
Junior aged players are at a very particular time of their lives. They are still young, but also on the cusp of adulthood. Only one step below professional hockey, you might have the belief that it is all glamour, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are not very many frills here and that is especially true with a small team like this with a relatively small budget.
Pressure and how you react to it is what is front and centre here. These young men not only have to deal with the issues that others their age do like girlfriends, school and newfound freedom, but also time management, growing up quickly and figuring out what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
Though the scenes with the players are interesting what really grabbed by attention were those featuring the coaching staff and management. At that time the coach of the Drakkars was Eric Dubois. He is a man who does not mince words. A tough coach who does not think twice about dressing down players, whether in the dressing room between periods or during one-on-one meetings in his office. You rarely get to go behind the curtain to see what a coach actually thinks or wants done in regards to player personnel on his team. Here you get to see that. You know what he thinks of certain players and who he wants gone from the team. At times it seems like he is heartless, but then you remember he is just trying to do the job he was hired for.
Sports really does provide a great backdrop for documentary film makers because you know there is going to be some drama. Some ups and downs. There are plenty in this season with the Drakkars. You see the euphoria after a win and the downcast faces and swearing coaches after a loss. This season the team was not an especially strong one and made a quick exit in the playoffs. No happy ending here.
The harsh realities of the sport are not shied away from. Ryan James Hand, a player who is considered an enforcer and has been with the team a couple of seasons, falls into disfavour with coaches due to his disregard for rules and disinterest in fighting. He is shipped off and labelled a troublemaker. Another veteran Ryan Lehr is traded twice in one day with the young man from Halifax not being happy about ending up in Chicoutimi and not sure if he wants to continue playing so far from home. To make matters even more stressful for him, he has five minutes to make his decision about whether to report to Chicoutimi or not.
A strength of the film is that the camera does not seem to preoccupy anyone. They seem to forget it is even there and as such you get what you feel is authentic behaviour. The players cry, dance and talk about girls while the coaches swear and tear apart players.
Shot in Direct Cinema style the camera gets to places and witnesses things we outsiders would normally never have access to. This style attempts to bring to viewers the story in the most realistic and least intrusive way. Choosing this style really allows you to feel everything that is going on. The stress the players feel from all sides including from themselves, fans, coaches, agents, and even their families. Highs and lows are felt alongside the players as they go through them; you feel like you are going through it with them. The pressure cooker life boils all around you.