David arrives at the rink and goes into his office. He resumes studying videos of the opposing team. He realizes that what’s missing from his team is speed. The junior team’s first line consists of Kevin, Benji, and a strong, slow player named William Lyt. David has always been able to compensate for Lyt’s weaknesses, but knows that may not suffice in the semifinal. He goes to the bathroom to throw up again.
Two doors down, Sune is watching the same clips over and over. Sune no longer sees hockey the same way David does; they come to the opposite conclusions about everything. They’re both too attached to their own perspectives to relate to each other’s ideas. As he watches the videos, though, Sune has to admit that David is right about the junior team’s lagging pace. Sune has always been opposed to moving younger players up to older levels, but now, facing a likely loss, he wonders, “what are principles worth if you don’t win?”
Despite their philosophical differences, Sune and David are converging on this point. The recognition of the team’s insufficient speed even causes Sune, already smarting over his imminent firing, to question one of his foundational principles; maybe his risk aversion isn’t as wise as he’s always thought. The fact that even level-headed Sune is tempted to prioritize winning over all else shows how pervasive the emphasis on winning is in Beartown.
Robbie Holts is a little past 40, with a graying beard. He walks through town, waiting for the town pub, the Bearskin, to open. He was laid off from the factory awhile back. He goes into the supermarket and buys some low-strength beers, then gulps them down in the bathroom to tide him over until the pub opens. When he goes outside again, he can’t avoid seeing the roof of the rink. It reminds him of the fact that, once, he was more promising than Kevin Erdahl, even better than Peter Andersson.
The transition to Robbie Holts’s story is an intentional move, because Robbie is a cautionary tale for moving a talented player up the ranks too quickly. He’s someone who might have attained the stature of a Kevin or a Peter, yet he’s all but forgotten in the town’s eyes. The line between success and failure is thin and unforgiving.
After Peter drops the kids off at school, he feels his nervousness more keenly. He hopes the junior team is too young and naïve to realize how big the stakes are tomorrow. He remembers his dad’s scorn when his team fell short of winning the final when Peter was 20. Then, when Peter got his NHL contract and was heading to Canada, his dad told him he wasn’t “anything special.” Peter left in anger, and the two never reconciled before his father’s death.
For Peter, too, hockey is deeply personal. Even though, unlike Robbie, he reached the pinnacle of the sport—playing in North America’s National Hockey League—he never felt fully approved of by his own father. Outward success, Peter’s story makes clear, can’t compensate for private wounds.
After Peter returned from Canada to become the hockey club’s General Manager, he realized that “a hockey crowd knows no nuances, only heaven or hell.” Before, he’d been a professional hockey star. Now, he’s just the manager of a club that’s falling down through the standings. But Peter has never stopped loving hockey, not since it provided a refuge for him from his drunken father at the age of four.
Though Peter has tasted success, he’s acutely aware of its other side; the rest of the world doesn’t see the sacrifice that goes into success, so it quickly dismisses those who fail. Peter has endured because he loves the sport itself; it’s been a safe place for him, regardless of winning or losing. The phrasing relating hockey crowds to “heaven or hell” again shows that for people in places like Beartown, hockey has supplanted even powerful institutions like religion.
Robbie Holts watches Peter drive through town. He remembers that, when he and Peter were 17, Sune had insisted that Robbie wasn’t ready to move up to the A-team. But the club’s board and sponsors had insisted, and Robbie quickly discovered that he wasn’t ready for the mental demands of playing on a higher level. By the second time the crowds booed him, he was beginning to drown his pain in alcohol. He started getting worse at hockey while Peter got better. When Peter joined the NHL, Robbie started work at the factory: “There are no almosts in hockey.”
Robbie’s situation parallels Kevin’s current situation and the situation Amat will later face; in Robbie’s case, moving up quickly ruined his chances at long-term success. Unlike Peter, who has continued to love hockey despite his waning fortunes, Robbie is left with just bitterness and regret. He couldn’t handle the rejection of the fans and has never gotten over it. Robbie’s experience explains Sune’s hesitations in this area and emphasizes how ruthless the sport can be.
Sune writes four words on a Post-It note and waits until he hears David step out of his office. He prays that what he’s about to do won’t ruin another young boy’s life. When David returns, he reads the note: “Amat. Boys’ team. Fast!!!”
Despite his fears, Sune takes a risky step that will prove life-changing for Amat. Where a similar move proved ruinous for Robbie, it will allow Amat to shine—suggesting that one’s response to success or failure has much to do with the character already present.