Sune is so old that nobody remembers his age. He is short and wide, with “the proportions of a snowman.” Outside the rink, he watches the men leaving from the president’s meeting. He knows perfectly well what their plans are. He knows that Beartown’s wealthy men want to leverage junior hockey into economic survival for the town. That makes the hockey club a “kingdom,” the site of a power struggle that has no place for Sune. He’s poured his whole life into the club and isn’t sure what he’ll do without it.
Sune is more detached from Beartown hockey culture, and from his veteran perspective, he tends to assess it more soberly and wisely. He readily sees, for example, what hockey has come to represent for Beartown, and that his own methods won’t help sustain that approach.
Sune understands that Beartown’s club is no longer content to just play hockey. When Sune talks to his players before their games, he gives speeches about “playing with their hearts.” When the coach of the junior team, David, talks to his players before games, he simply says, “Win”—and that’s what the junior team has been doing for 10 years. Sune, however, is worried that a hockey team should consist of more than “boys who never lose.”
Sune’s worry about the hockey team turns out to be prophetic. He sees hockey as instrumental in shaping character; therefore it’s important to be intentional about what kind of attitudes are encouraged in young players. If players are constantly encouraged to win, they’ll begin to expect nothing else out of life, even off the ice.
In the car on the way to school, Ana and Maya joke around, while up front, 12-year-old Leo tunes them out. He asks his dad, Peter, if he will make it to watch him train today. Peter says he’ll try, but that Kira definitely will. “Mom’s always there,” Leo replies, and it feels like an accusation to Peter. Then Maya pleads with Peter to drop her off before they reach school; she doesn’t want people to see her dad and start talking to her about tomorrow’s hockey game.
Peter feels pulled between various obligations—he’s not able to be there for Leo (who indeed stays in the background for much of the story), and he’s also an obstacle to Maya’s social life. Maya wants to stay out of the hockey limelight altogether—a chilling hint of what will come later.
Kira is driving away from Beartown, on her way to work. She knows she isn’t the GM’s wife that the town was expecting. She quickly stopped getting invited to club functions because when the club president made a sexist remark, she insulted him in kind. Kira still feels guilt about continuing her law career full time. While Kira always says what she means, Peter always worries about what people think. But she puts up with Beartown because she loves Peter, who loves hockey.
Kira doesn’t fit the Beartown mold, and in many ways, she exemplifies the complexity of being an ambitious woman in such a culture. She loves her job and resents others’ criticisms of her career, yet she longs for more time with her family; she genuinely loves and supports her husband, but doesn’t fit into his world.
As Sune walks into the rink, he thinks about the “moments of magic” he’s experienced, when he witnessed the birth of great talents. He likens it to “seeing a cherry tree in bloom in a frozen garden.” The first talent was Peter Andersson, more than 40 years ago—he was a scrawny kid with bruises from his alcoholic father, and “hockey noticed him when no one else did.” The second talent was Kevin, about 10 years ago.
For Sune, hockey is all about improbable, unpredictable moments. The elusive scent of cherry blossoms symbolizes this throughout the book. Such moments can’t be produced or managed, especially in a results-driven hockey club like Beartown’s. This further illustrates why Sune sticks out.
Sune also took notice of David, who, at 22, had been a struggling A-team player. Sune saw not a failed player, but a potentially brilliant coach. He started David with the seven-year-olds, and now David coaches the junior team. Sune reflects on the irony: the three men he “discovered” will be his downfall, with Peter firing him, David taking his job, and Kevin the living validation of both those decisions.
Sune has an eye for potential that most people lack. This ability to see ironically ends up being his own downfall—something that will also prove true of characters like Amat, who see and speak up when others don’t, even when doing so leads to harsh consequences for themselves.
Amat remembers Sune talking to his skating class when Amat was only five, telling the little boys that, no matter what their backgrounds, everybody is equal on the ice, and that “desire always beats luck.” And Amat has greater desire than anyone. Hockey was “a way into society” for him and Fatima, and now, he intends for it to become “a way out.” So he keeps training, despite the pain and fatigue.
It’s not surprising that Sune’s perspective would encourage young Amat (or that a coach like Sune would take the time to speak to five-year-olds). Amat’s position in Beartown continues to contrast him with figures like Kevin, who have a stake in maintaining their position atop society; Amat just wants a shot for himself and his mom.
These days, Sune feels as if nothing about hockey can still surprise him. When he enters the rink, he chats with the caretaker and notices the boy skating furiously back and forth, repeatedly changing direction without any loss of momentum. The caretaker explains that it’s Amat, who’s here every day. Sune sits in the stands and watches him for a while. Later, the caretaker glances up into the stands and is startled to see Sune laughing. And there are tears in Sune’s eyes—he thinks he can smell cherry blossom.
Years after he first inspired the young Amat, Sune recognizes the boy’s potential for the first time—as unlikely as a cherry tree blossoming in the dead of a Swedish winter. The scene suggests that unnoticed background characters often have much more to offer than those who are front and center.