Before this Olympics began, no one had much good to say about Team Canada. They were culled from all the Canadians bold enough, good enough, adventurous enough to play in Europe, but not good enough for the NHL. This Team Canada was not like the ones of recent Olympics.
This Team Canada won a medal, and no it wasn’t the gold won in a dominating fashion over all other teams. It was the bronze, and it’s an odd thing, if Germany hadn’t beaten the Swedes, it would be considered a good result, more perhaps than we should have expected after a preliminary round where Canada finished fourth.
But because Germany pulled their giant killer trick twice over, Canada’s players got to decide if they wanted to win a bronze or go back to the European playoffs with nothing to show for this Korean vacation. To win they had to beat the Czechs.
For as long as I can remember, the Czechs, and the Czechoslovakians before them, have had something about them, some spark, some style, something that makes them always greater than the sum of their parts. It seems like every time I do a preview of an international tournament, I’m writing the same line: The Czechs will utilize their superior team play and cohesiveness to beat teams that seem like they’re better than they are.
It happened again here. The Czechs came out of their pool in first place, over Canada who they beat, and they got to the bronze medal game after they put the super-powered Russians right to the wall. They have not given up more than two goals in a game (barring empty net goals) and they are tough customers with skill.
Canada played their own game in this bronze medal final, more than they have in any of their prior games. They skated fast, they were passing well, and they utilized their speed and agility to put pressure on Pavel Francouz, who is likely the best goalie in this tournament.
Andrew Ebbett, who has been a scoring star in the NLA for years and is one of the most talented shooters on the team, opened the scoring with a power play goal.
Martin Ruzicka, the 32-year-old Czech League and KHL star, answered back a few seconds later.
A few more seconds passed and Chris Kelly, not one of Canada’s speed merchants, made it 2-1. Derek Roy from our old friend Brandon Kozun and Rene Bourque did the thing no one else had done and got the third goal on Francouz. The first period ended with Canada in control.
The second period saw Canada play a smothering style that kept the shots on goal to 8-5 for Canada and they were 20 minutes from a medal.
That 20 minutes was total chaos with goals traded, and goals called back. Andrew Ebbett and Chris Kelly both got their second goals, and Jan Kovar, one of the best players in the KHL, kept the Czechs in it.
Wojtek Wolski, who wasn’t sure at one point he’d ever walk again, scored to make it 6-2, and that really should have been that, but Roman Cervenka got one, and then Canada took a bad too many men on the ice penalty near the end of the game that let the Czechs have a six on four with the goalie pulled. Cervenka scored again.
It was a wild finish, but at the end of it all, it was 6-4 Canada. Canada won the game with one really good period of play after losing their semifinal with one really bad period. That’s hockey.
The gold medal game is tonight at 11:10 PM Toronto time, and will be the German’s last chance to slay a giant at this Olympics as they take on Russian.