Amat leaves the ice, sweating heavily, without having noticed that Sune was sitting there. Sune can’t believe he’s missed the emergence of such a talent and blames this on his “old heart.” He fears that once Amat is discovered, the hockey club will push him for results too quickly. The reason Sune is being fired boils down to the fact that everyone wants Kevin Erdahl on the A-team already, but Sune refuses, believing that “it takes more than hormones to turn boys into men.” Kevin doesn’t have the maturity for such an opportunity yet.
Sune feels protective of Amat, for reasons that will become even clearer later on, with the stories of characters like Robbie Holts. Pushing young players for results often tends to lead to burnout and bitterness. It requires a maturity that goes beyond mere technical ability, and such maturity can’t be forced.
Sune figures that it’s his fault that Beartown is made up of “bad losers.” He taught them the “club comes first” attitude, and the club is using it against him now. If he had allowed Kevin to play on the A-team, it would have probably saved his job. He wishes he were certain he had made the right choice. Maybe they’re right that he’s old and stubborn, he thinks.
Sune is a perceptive, self-aware character who’s capable of seeing his own faults and limitations. Now he can see how emphasizing the collective over the individual is coming back to bite him, and he has the humility to wonder if he was necessarily right. This supports Backman’s theme that team loyalty is often a double-edged sword.
David, Beartown’s junior team coach, is frantically doing push-ups under his kitchen table. He’s just spent the night watching old training and game videos. David is “a simple man to understand and an impossible man to live with.” He grew up with no friends and no other interests besides hockey. Tomorrow’s match will be the most important in David’s life.
In contrast to the contemplative Sune, David is frenetic and obsessive, with tunnel vision for hockey and especially for winning. The contrast between David and Sune allows the reader to look for similar parallels between players (e.g., Kevin and Amat) and consider how these differing approaches shape young men.
David’s players don’t play elegant hockey. David focuses more on strategy and defense. More than anything, he cares about results. He doesn’t care about making friends. As far as he’s concerned, the key to being liked is to get to the top of the podium.
David’s attitudes about the game further illustrate his differences from Sune. He’s not much interested in the inherent beauty of the sport, but rather in achieving specific goals on the ice in order to win.
David understands that just because Kevin Erdahl is the best player doesn’t mean he’s the most important. On the video he sees Benjamin Ovich. Like David, Benji is prepared to do whatever’s necessary to win. Benji lives with his mother in a row house at Beartown’s far end. It always takes several tries for his mom to wake him in the morning. Benji’s mom worries about him. He “cares too little about the future and frets too much about the past,” a fighter with sad eyes and a wild heart. Benji’s dad, Alan, had been just the same.
David’s hockey philosophy does allow for some nuance; for example, he sees the importance of nurturing players besides the star. Though Benji has persistence in common with David, in other ways he’s a contrast. He’s talented and stubborn, but also sensitive and complicated, and like Amat, he’s been primarily nurtured by a strong single mom.
As David brews his coffee for the day, he watches the video of Benji hitting a defender with his stick to stop him from overtaking Kevin on the ice. This leads to a ten-minute on-ice brawl. David isn’t bothered by Benji’s temperament; he loves it. You can’t teach someone to defend and protect the way Benji protects Kevin.
David appreciates Benji’s dogged loyalty and doesn’t try to make him something he isn’t. Benji isn’t a naturally aggressive person, but he will do anything to protect those he cares about—when they need defending. This will become a key distinction later.
Once Benji has biked out of sight of his mom, he stops to smoke a joint. David often compliments Benji’s calf muscles and balance on the ice, but Benji knows this is because he cycles through deep snow every day while high. Benji knows David would never throw him off the team for smoking pot, because Kevin is so important to the team—“Kevin is the jewel, Benji the insurance policy.”
Benji is not a health-obsessed athlete in the mold of his friend Kevin; he clearly does things his own way. He also has a realistic knowledge of where he stands. His security on the team isn’t because he’s inherently indispensable, but rather because Kevin is. This relative lack of entitlement will be an ongoing contrast between him and Kevin.
At the rink, Sune looks at the banner hanging from the roof. It bears the club’s motto: “Culture, Values, Community.” He thinks that “culture” is a strange word to apply to hockey, because ultimately, the only “culture” anyone cares about is the culture of winning. And winners are aren’t usually very likeable; they tend to be “obsessive and selfish and inconsiderate.” But people keep forgiving winners. Sune goes back to his office. His belongings are already packed up; he plans to disappear quietly. After all, the team comes first.
Sune’s insight about culture is key to the books themes. “Winning” really isn’t much of a culture; it doesn’t help cultivate better human beings. But it does give people the superficial outcome they want to see. Sune himself is a casualty of such an outlook. His ironic observation that the team comes first shows again that he’s aware of the way his own teachings have led to his current predicament.
Benji goes to Kevin’s house. Nobody remembers how they became best friends, but they’re inseparable. When Kevin’s mom answers the door, both she and Mr. Erdahl are talking on their phones. Benji thinks that Kevin is both the most and least spoiled kid he knows. Kevin eats specially catered meals each day on a precise nutrition plan, and no hockey player in Beartown has had his parents invest so much in his career. Yet Kevin’s parents have almost never attended Kevin’s games. They’re not interested in hockey; they’re interested in success.
In contrast to Benji’s far less regimented life, every detail of Kevin’s life is carefully designed to promote his success on the ice. And unlike other parents like Fatima or Peter, Mr. and Mrs. Erdahl don’t care so much about Kevin’s passions as they do about his being the best. The culture of winning, it seems, has defined the way the members of the Erdahl family interact with each other
As Benji passes through the perfect living room, he subtly messes up a couple of photos on the walls and the fringe on the rug. Behind him, Mrs. Erdahl automatically puts everything back the way it was. Outside, Benji sits down by Kevin’s garden rink. After Kevin’s parents leave, Benji smokes another joint and eventually falls asleep. Kevin, on the other hand, admits that he’s “shitting himself” over the coming semifinal. He keeps mechanically slamming pucks into the goal.
Benji can’t stand the sight of so much bland perfection, while Mrs. Erdahl obsessively maintains the façade—a clue to her discontentment, which becomes apparent much later. While Kevin is wired to put in the maximum effort at all times, Benji is content to get by on raw ability.
David finishes his push-ups and gets ready for work. But before he leaves the house, he runs into the bathroom and turns on the taps so that his girlfriend won’t hear him vomiting.
For David, as for Peter, the stakes of the coming game are very high and deeply personal. Until this point, it hasn’t been clear that David has a girlfriend, showing how much hockey eclipses everything personal in his life.