GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 24: Canadian players and staff pose for a photo following a 6-4 bronze medal game win against the Czech Republic at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Scoreless second book-ended by crazy goals
Canada and the Czechs tied a record with three goals in 31 seconds in a crazy opening period.
And all of the Czechs goals came only very quickly after a Canada goal.
In the end, Canada had its best night of offence and won Olympic bronze for just the third time ever (1968, 1956). It did so with a collection of anonymous, NHL castoffs who collectively had zero games of Olympic experience.
As coach Willie Desjardins said when the team was announced, this was a group of players who had heard "no" more than once in their careers. In the last two weeks, they heard "yes" a lot, and played with commensurate pride today.
"I’m really proud of my group," Desjardins said. "They played hard. It was a really tough game last night to bounce back from. Some people maybe thought we wouldn’t bounce back, but we really wanted it."
With the loss, the Czechs finish fourth. They started with four wins in a row, including a shootout win over Canada in the round robin, but ended with two losses. This marks the third straight Olympics they have failed to reach the podium.
"It’s been a disappointing end," admitted Martin Erat. "It started yesterday. We had a chance against Russia, and we blew it. Today we gave everything, but when they score six goals there’s no chance to win.It’s hard to prepare. In 24 hours you go from disappointment to having to play for a medal. But that’s the way it is. It’s too bad."
"For us a bronze is great motivation," Roman Cervenka said. "It's almost like a gold for some teams. We tried to be ready and fight from the start but our first period was terrible. We gave them many chances, and they scored."
Andrew Ebbett and Chris Kelly had two goals each for the winners. Roman Cervenka had two goals and an assist for the Czechs.
"That was a crazy game," enthused defenceman Chris Lee, the only member of this team who also won silver at last year's World Championship. "I don’t know how the guys watched it as fans because on the ice we were so nervous."
The scoring blitz started on a Canadian power play. Mat Robinson threw a puck towards the goal, and en route it deflected first off the stick of Czech defender Vojtech Mozik and then the skate of Canadian forward Ebbett and in. Ebbett got credit for the goal at 8:57.
No sooner did the Canadians start to feel good about themselves than Martin Ruzicka got a favourable bounce in front and put the puck in the open side just 16 seconds after Ebbett's score. The play started with a long shot that Kevin Poulin allowed a generous rebound from and Cervenka fanning on a one-timer off the bouncing puck.
And then no sooner did the Czechs feel delight with their quick reply than Canada went ahead again. In more traditional fashion, a Cody Goloubef point shot was tipped in front by captain Kelly at 9:28.
Those three goals by both teams in 31 seconds tied an Olympic record set by Finland and the United States back in 1976.
For good measure, Canada made it 3-1 off a great rush. Brandon Kozun made a nice saucer pass on a two-on-one and Derek Roy slipped a backhand between the pads of Francouz at 15:57.
The scoreless second was tight and close-checking, the best chance coming from Ebbett who had a clear break but was stopped by Pavel Francouz.
Canada went ahead 4-1 at 5:50 of the final period on a very unusual pass-tip combination. Brandon Kozun was practically on the goal line when he fired a pass to the top of the crease. Ebbett tipped the puck over Francouz's glove into the top corner.
But, as in the first, the Czechs struck right back, this time 46 seconds later. Jan Kovar claimed a loose puck in the slot and wired a shot under the blocker of Poulin to cut the lead to two goals again.
Another great combination by Canada, though, increased the lead again. This time Rob Klinkhammer saw Kelly wide open in front and snapped a quick pass from the corner boards. Kelly wasted no time in drilling a shot over Francouz's glove at 9:37.
As if scripted, the Czechs responded in simlar fashion, Martin Erat ripping a shot past Poulin from in front. Canada challenged the play, though, on the basis of goaltender interference, and upon further review, the goal was overturned, keeping it a 5-2 game.
Wojtek Wolski added a late goal for Canada, and again the Czechs replied, Cervenka scoring a batted-puck goal 63 seconds later.
The Czechs made it 6-4 with a power-play goal augmented by a sixth attacker, Cervenka again scoring. But as time wound down and Francouz still on the bench, the Czechs could get no closer.
And so Canada's team of European-based stars, selected by GM Sean Burke, claimed third place. For every single player on the team, the journey to get here was worth it.