GANGNEUNG, South Korea – To its credit, the men’s Olympic team brought it in its final outing of the Pyeongchang Games, avoiding the Canadian hockey hubris that sees anything other than gold as a worthless consolation prize.
There’s no shame in stepping on the podium’s lowest step, and while it should never be the goal, there’s a secondary achievement in winning your last game and not going home empty-handed.
Two goals apiece from Andrew Ebbett and captain Chris Kelly, another from Derek Roy who was again his team’s best forward and a tremendous performance by Kevin Poulin in net ensured Canada’s 29th medal at these Olympics with a 6-4 victory over the Czech Republic on Saturday night.
The colour may not be the one they wanted, but it’s a Winter Games medal nonetheless.
If anything, what should really bother these 22 players and three goalies is knowing that if they had played the same type of hard, edgy and opportunistic game in the semifinals versus Germany, they would have been playing for gold and not bronze.
They’ll surely regret that for a long, long time, regardless of how steep a challenge it would have been to beat a stacked Russian team featuring the ageless wizardry of Pavel Datsyuk and the mercurial-as-ever Ilya Kovalchuk.
But they didn’t even give themselves a chance in a 4-3 loss that becomes increasingly infuriating the more you think about it.
Ensuring that disappointment didn’t spill over into the bronze-medal game against the Czechs was no simple task. But as Mike Babcock, who coached NHL-star-stocked teams to Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014, said following Toronto Maple Leafs practice Friday, “you’ve got to get your mindset right.”
“There’s a medal on the line and, as an Olympian, you can be disappointed all you want, but you’ve got a chance to win a medal for your country and you want to dig in and take advantage of that,” he continued. “I can tell you right now, the last time I was home someone said, ‘Hey, do you have a medal here?’ They dug it out of a drawer or whatever and looked at it – it’s cool.
“Like, they’re freakin’ nice. I mean your whole life you get to be an Olympic medallist, so get past now. The disappointment’s over and it’s about getting ready for the next one.”
Canada looked engaged from the outset against a physical Czech team just as determined as its opponent, with Canada taking control during a wild 31-second stretch that featured three goals.
Ebbett got it started when Mat Robinson’s centring pass deflected off his skate and past Pavel Francouz on a power play to open the scoring at 8:57. Just 16 seconds later, Martin Ruzicka tied it up when he shovelled in Roman Cervenka’s cross-ice pass, but a mere 15 seconds after that Kelly tipped in a Cody Goloubef point shot to restore Canada’s lead.
Roy then gave Canada some breathing room at 15:57 of the period, hustling to turn a Brandon Kozun rush into a 2-on-1, taking a nifty pass and slipping it through Francouz’s legs.
After a tight second period kept the game at 3-1 Canada, the team’s went pond-hockey-ish in the third.
Ebbett redirected a clever Kozun pass at 5:50 to extend the lead, but then 46 seconds later Jan Kovar fired home a loose puck in the slot to make it a 4-2 game. A Kelly wrist shot from the slot 3:01 later made it 5-2 and Wojtek Wolski shovelled in a rebound at 15:23 for a 6-2 edge, with a disallowed Czech goal in between.
Cervenka then scored at 16:26 and 17:55, the second coming after a too-many-men penalty, to make it a 6-4 game, but Canada held on.