Canada triumphs over Czechs to win men's hockey bronze

Canada's men's hockey team triumphed over Czech Republic 6-4 to win bronze at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Saturday.

Andrew Ebbett, Chris Kelly lead Canadians with pair of goals each

Canada's men's hockey team celebrates after defeating Czech Republic 6-4 in the bronze-medal game on Saturday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

With less than 24 hours to regroup after a shocking semifinal loss, Team Canada heard some powerful words in the buildup to Saturday's bronze medal game against the Czech Republic.

They came from GM Sean Burke, fellow team executive Martin Brodeur, the players' leadership group and Calgary mountain climber/motivational speaker Jamie Clarke.

For defenceman Mat Robinson, the message was: "This is forever."

"This is something you'll remember for the rest of your life," he said. "Whether it's a gold or it's a bronze, it's still something you wear proud."

The words found a home. Especially in a team whose players — deemed surplus to requirements by the NHL — are scattered over clubs in eight countries.

Still "sad and mad" from a 4-3 loss to unheralded Germany on Friday, according to goalie Kevin Poulin, the Canadians ran up an early 3-1 lead against the Czechs and then survived a six-goal roller-coaster third period to win 6-4.

'They wanted to do something special'

"The guys wanted a medal," said head coach Willie Desjardins. "They didn't come over here just to march in the opening ceremonies. They wanted to do something special."

In a tournament devoid of NHL stars, the blue-collar Canadians had hoped to take advantage of the resulting parity and grind their way to the top of the podium. But inconsistency took its toll, especially against the Germans when Canada paid for a substandard first 40 minutes.

Still the Canadian men showed their character in the bronze-medal game, delivering a bounce-back performance that gives them something to remember. But the medal could have been a lot shinier had there been a better effort against Germany.

The pre-game message was also about adding to the record Canadian medal total here.

"We wanted to be part of that. It was more than just us," said Desjardins. "And we talked about how special [it is], it's one chance. And how [Friday] night didn't go the way we wanted, but I think that's the way their whole careers have gone. Some things don't go the way they wanted, but they just don't give up."

Things looked bleak after yet another sluggish Canadian start. But a flurry of first- and third-period goals turned the tide Canada's way in what was one of the Olympic tournament's most exciting contests. You blinked at your own risk, with goals coming fast and furious.

Czechs never gave up

Andrew Ebbett and Chris Kelly each had two goals while Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski added singles for Canada.

Roman Cervenka, with two goals, Martin Ruzicka and Jan Kovar scored for the Czech Republic, which was blanked 3-0 by the Russian entry in the other semifinal.

The Czechs outshot Canada 34-26.

The Canadians led 3-1 after 16 minutes despite not putting a shot on goal for the first seven minutes 21 seconds.

The two teams combined for three goals in 31 seconds in the first period — Canada at 8:57, the Czechs at 9:13 and Canada at 9:28 — tying the Olympic record for three fastest goals — originally set in 1976 by the U.S. and Finland.

Canada's three goals came on nine first-period shots against goalie Pavel Francouz, who stoned all but one Canadian shooter in the Czechs' 3-2 shootout win in the preliminary round.

While Canada tried to play a crisp, disciplined game the rest of the way, the Czechs never gave up and continued to upset the apple cart. A scoreless second offered some respite before the wild finale.

Canada went up 4-1 early in the third only to have the Czechs answer 46 seconds later. Two more Canadian goals made it 6-2 but the Czechs refused to buckle, scoring a pair of goals 89 seconds apart late in the game to make for a nail-biting finish.

Emotions ran high

Emotions ran high as the Canadian players made their way off the ice still wearing their medals.

"It feels unbelievable. It's hard to put into words right now. I'm so happy," said forward Rob Klinkhammer, who once had a summer job digging ditches. "Last night was obviously a letdown and it was super-tough to put that one way behind us. Everyone woke up pretty devastated just with our effort. I'm so proud of the guys for coming together and rallying like that 24 hours later.

"We had a great game, I thought everyone just bought into the system. I'm an Olympic medal winner now. I can't believe it."

Wolski said the German celebrations in the next-door locker-room helped fuel their fire.

"We talked about that a lot before the game and during the game that we wanted to have that feeling in our [locker] room after the game," he said.

Captain Kelly now has an Olympic bronze to go with his Stanley Cup ring with the Boston Bruins.

"This is extremely special," he said. "The way we came out and started this game after a disappointing loss last night I thought it really showed the character of the group."

"Canadians are proud people," he added. "And there's 25 proud guys in there that want to represent their country the right way."

Burke, a two-time Olympian, spoke at a morning meeting and relayed a text message from Brodeur that also struck home.

Focused on a medal

Brodeur is a four-time Olympian and two-time Olympic gold medallist. His late father, Denis, also a goalie, won bronze at the 1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo Games.

"He had a bronze medal on his wall and Martin grew up with that," Desjardins recalled. "For that to be special for him shows how special that medal is. It's not maybe the one you wanted, but it's really special having an Olympic medal."

Clarke's last speech to the team had been taped and was shown with highlights of the team's journey to the Olympics.

"I think it sent some chills through some guys," said veteran defenceman Chris Lee. "And we realized that it's going to take everyone to win this. And just to win a medal is something pretty special and we were focused on that tonight."

Germany hopes to continue its miracle run in the gold medal game Saturday at 11:10 p.m. ET with the Russian entry.

Canada's hockey medal count now stands at nine gold, four silver and three bronze. The Czechs won gold in 1998 and bronze in 2006 as the Czech Republic as well as four silver and four bronze earlier as Czechoslovakia.

Canada, the two-time defending men's champion, won three of the last four hockey golds.

Once again, there was plenty of empty seats and not much atmosphere at the 10,000-capacity Gangneung Hockey Centre.

A look at the attendance figures ahead of Saturday's game shows Canada wasn't much of a hockey draw here. While it might be attributed to South Korea's distance from home and the lack of NHL stars, Canada's average attendance of 4,378 ranked ninth among the 12th hockey entries.

Korea led in attendance, averaging 6,010 ahead of the Czechs (5,234) and Slovakia (5,038).