Just 24 hours after going down 4-3 to the unheralded Germans, things looked bleak after yet another sluggish Canadian start. But a flurry of first- and third-period goals turned the tide Canada’s way.
The Canadian men led 3-1 after 16 minutes despite not putting a shot on goal for the first seven minutes 21 seconds. Their 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 period offered some respite before a six-goal rollercoaster finale in the third.
It was one of the Olympic tournament’s most exciting contests. You blinked at your own risk, with goals coming fast and furious.
The Canadians poured off the bench to gather in front of their goal for a fairly muted celebration while the disappointed Czechs left the ice before the medal ceremony.
Typically a third-place finish is no cause for celebration in Canadian hockey, but members of the team were all smiles while receiving their bronze medals. Players waved to those in the stands and also posed for a team picture.
Andrew Ebbett and Chris Kelly each had two goals while Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski added singles for Canada. Roy needed a new jersey and some medical attention after taking a skate to the face but kept playing.
Captain Kelly now has an Olympic bronze to go with his Stanley Cup ring with the Boston Bruins.
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 gold medal game goes Sunday.
The teams traded rapid-fire goals in the third period with Ebbett slapping in a well-placed Brandon Kozun pass into the crease at 5:50. Kovar answered 46 seconds later, left alone in the slot after Roman Horak was dispossessed after a solo rush.
Kelly got his second at 9:37 on a blistering wrist shot from the slot after some fine work in the corner by Rob Klinkhammer, increasing the Canadian lead to 5-2.
A Martin Erat goal a little over a minute later was waved off due a Canadian goalie interference challenge. Goaltender Kevin Poulin seemed to initiate the contact with Tomas Zohorna but the referees thought otherwise.
Wolski made it 6-2 with 4:37 remaining, banging the puck in after several attempts in a goalmouth scramble. The Czechs answered 63 seconds later on Cervenka’s goal, which survived a challenge for being knocked in with a high stick.
Cervenka scored on the power play with 2:05 remaining to set up a wild finish.
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.
Canada, the two-time defending men’s champion, won three of the last four hockey golds.
The 2014 version of Team Canada reportedly came with a $150-million salary cap hit. This team, drawn from teams in eight countries, came considerably cheaper.
Despite its slow start Saturday, Canada found itself leading 2-1 after the period took off like a firecracker with three goals in 31 seconds.
Ebbett opened the scoring at 8:57 on the power play after a Mat Robinson shot bounced in off him – after hitting a defenceman’s stick – through traffic.
The Czechs answered 16 seconds later when a whiffed shot found its way to Ruzicka in front with Canadians Chay Genoway and Wolski unable to get to him in time. Despite being enveloped by a Czech defender, Kelly restored the Canadian lead 15 seconds later with a deft tip-in off a Cody Goloubef shot.
Roy made it 3-1 at 15:57, outracing a Czech forechecker to slip a backhand through Francouz’s legs on a two-on-one with Kozun.
Once again the Canadians, who have a combined 5,544 NHL games under their belt, faced a team used to playing together.
The Czech roster featured nine players who lost 4-1 to an NHL-stocked Canada when they met last May at the world championships. Canada had just one returnee – defenceman Chris Lee.
The Germans have 14 returning players from the worlds.
With Ben Scrivens still sidelined with a shoulder injury, Poulin got the start in goal again. Forward Gilbert Brule was suspended as a result of being tossed from the Germany game for a check to the head. Defenceman Stefan Elliott did not dress.
Coach Willie Desjardins kept none of his forward lines intact from the Germany game, making changes to all four.
Saturday’s game came 20 years after the Czechs and goalie Dominik Hasek broke Canadian hearts with a 2-1 shootout win in the Olympic semifinal. Canada’s NHL-stacked team then lost the bronze medal game to Finland.
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.
Once again, there were 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).