The “banging” comes from the Erdahl family garden. Kevin Erdahl is shooting pucks. At age seven, Kevin scored all the goals in his very first hockey game, but he missed his final shot and was inconsolable. Late that night, Kevin went missing, and the entire town searched for him. Eventually, they found him shooting pucks on the frozen lake, trying to master the angle he had missed in the game earlier that day. He was carried home, sobbing, with frostbite. The whole town recognized that Kevin “had the bear inside him. That sort of thing can’t be ignored.”
The mysterious noise is the sound of Kevin Erdahl’s relentless hockey practice. Just as hockey has come to represent a revival of fortunes for Beartown, Kevin himself, as star of the team, embodies that hope of success. That’s what is meant by Kevin “having the bear inside him”—the bear symbolizes the unstoppable ferocity it takes to win. That symbolism, however, will take on a more complex meaning as the story goes on.
After that, Kevin’s parents had a small rink constructed in their garden. At 17, he’s now the most talented player the town has seen in decades. He knows that hockey demands his all, so he goes running in the forest early every morning, practices on his rink before and after school, and practices with both the junior team and the A-team. He’s already had offers to move and play for bigger teams, but he and his dad are Beartown men.
Kevin’s life has been defined by hockey, and the town and his parents have enabled and encouraged that. He is completely dedicated to his sport and devoted to the town. This also means that Kevin has never made room in his life for anything that doesn’t support his hockey goals or would pose a threat to victory.
If Beartown’s junior team wins the youth tournament, the politicians might build a hockey school here, which would attract more talent and sponsors. In turn, that could lead to an economic revival for the town—better roads, more businesses, more jobs. It would rejuvenate the town’s pride. Because of all that, Kevin bears “the weight of an entire community on his shoulders.”
There’s much at stake in the coming final—a victory would have both tangible and intangible residents for everyone in Beartown. It’s a massive weight for a single person to carry, but no one in the town seems to question whether it’s appropriate to place those burdens on a 17-year-old, or to foster such a culture more generally.
On the opposite end of town from the wealthy houses on the Heights, there’s the Hollow, which sits on the edge of an old gravel pit and consists of apartment blocks. Fatima and Amat live there in a two-room apartment. Early every morning, they take the bus to the rink, where she works as a cleaner and Amat claims extra practice time.
Amat’s life couldn’t be more different from Kevin’s. He doesn’t have any of the built-in privileges that Kevin has. On the other hand, he doesn’t carry the excessive expectations, either.
If Amat works hard, he might make the junior team next year, from there advance to the A-team, and finally turn professional. His goal is to someday take his mom away from her cleaning job and away from Beartown. He doesn’t care about money—he just wants Fatima to be able to rest her aching back, and to no longer have to constantly add and subtract money in his head.
Though Amat has some of the same goals that Kevin has, his motivations are quite different. For Amat, it’s not about winning for its own sake, but about supporting his mom and relieving her of her own burdens. This difference in motivations will produce very different characters as well.
Each morning, Amat helps the rink’s elderly caretaker with chores and then has an hour to himself on the ice before the figure skaters arrive. It’s the best part of his day. Repeatedly, he charges back and forth across the ice, as fast as he can go. When she gets a chance, Fatima watches Amat while she works. To her, having moved from a place without snow, Amat’s talent is a “divine mystery.”
Arguably, Amat has as much natural talent as Kevin does and works even harder, since he helps out at the rink before he practices. Fatima’s expectations are different from the Erdahls’, too. Amat’s talent is a “mystery,” so she receives it as a gift rather than a burden.
In a small house in the center of town, Peter Andersson gets ready for work. He’s barely slept, and he’s been sick twice. He knows his wife, Kira, doesn’t fully understand why grown men get so worked up about hockey. He’s tried to explain to her just how badly Beartown needs a win. She’d just kissed him and told him he’s an idiot, which Peter already knows.
The location of the Anderssons’ house hints at the fact that they’ll be caught in the middle of the town later in the book. Peter is scared to death about what Beartown’s loss could mean for the town and, like Kevin, he carries a sense of responsibility for the town’s success.