Dave and I just finished watching the five-episode television series Bear Town based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. We had both read the book a few years ago and it was excellent. We were glad we had read the novel before seeing the series.
Just a warning that at the heart of the story is a very graphically portrayed and troubling event. It was hard to read about in the book and is even harder to watch in the television series. But for anyone who has been involved in the world of hockey either as a player, a coach, a fan or a parent the story and message in Bear Town is an important one to consider.
The book and series illustrate that hockey can be a great experience for kids. Hockey teams can help community pride flourish. Hockey can bring people together.
Playing hockey can also be an awful experience for kids. It can batter civic pride. It can divide people. Bear Town looks at both the negative and positive sides of hockey.
The story is set in Sweden but could happen in any place where people love the game of hockey. One thing I appreciated about seeing Bear Town compared to just reading the book is how the deep cold, wintry landscape of Sweden so hauntingly and artistically filmed for the series adds ambience to the chilling truths that unfold in the story.
Both our sons played hockey for a time and there were many good things about that experience for them. They learned responsibility, organization and teamwork, quick thinking and the importance of physical conditioning. They had some coaches who were excellent role models.
They also had coaches who were not good role models and we had to navigate some crazy hockey politics. There were attitudes and behaviours accepted in the dressing room that definitely were not in keeping with our family values. Hockey was expensive and time-consuming so if you weren’t careful it could become an almost obsessive focus of your family’s life in winter that didn’t leave much room for other important things.
In Bear Town hockey gives an immigrant kid a place to belong, helps a boy without a Dad find a father figure, gives meaning and purpose to the life of an old man, provides camaraderie for a hockey phenom whose parents don’t have time for him, and inspires hope in a dying community.
But also in Bear Town hockey creates a culture that entitles young men to think they can treat others violently. Hockey inspires vandalism and blackmail and fosters a locker room mentality that isn’t respectful of diversity. Hockey tears families apart and makes people feel hopeless.
Bear Town is suspenseful. It tells a story that will engage you but may trouble you deeply as well. If hockey has ever played a role in your life Bear Town will make you think about that experience in new ways.