Vancouver February 24 2018- “We weren’t supposed to be here” those were the words Canadaian captain Chris Kelly told media before the team began their gold medal defense campaign with a convincing 5-1 win over Switzerland. The players were not the best in Canada, not even second best; but they were the best the country had to offer due to the NHL’s Olympic ban. Following their win over Switzerland, Canada fell in a shootout against the Czech Republic, and rebounded with a win over Korea. With these results the Canadians earned a bye to the quarter-finals as the fourth seed after the round robin.
These Olympics were different for the Canadian men’s hockey program. Lacking superstars, the team was built of NHL rejects and foreign successes. Though the players were no longer in the NHL, they shared a combined 5’544 total games in the league.
Canada faced Finland in the quarter-finals, and barely got passed them, having to rely on a last minute winner by SC Bern defenseman Maxim Noreau. After the win, Canada had earned a spot in the semi-finals where they faced the Germans who were coming off a shocking win over the medal favoured Swedes.
The Germany game did not go as planned for Canada as they fell 4-3 to the European side. Canada; a traditional hockey superpower was tired throughout the matchup and seemed to take a win for granted over the Germans. That attitude led the German team to their first victory over Canada in more than 80 years. While the Germans went on the play team Olympic Athlete of Russia in the final, Canada would battle fellow group “A” members the Czech Republic for bronze.
For any team, finding confidence for a bronze medal game is hard. Wayne Gretzkys Canada couldn’t find it at the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan where they fell to Finland in the shootout. Gretzky says that loss, and the way the team approached that game was one of the biggest regrets of his career. It was a text from the two time Olympic champion goalie Martin Brodeur which put the bronze medal game into perspective for the 2018 team. Brodeur never won a bronze himself, but his father did in 1956 and that medal hung in the Brodeur’s household through Martin’s childhood. The medal meant everything to the Brodeur family, and that was the message relayed to the players in PyeongChang. The message? Don’t waste this opportunity. You never know how important the medal will be decades from now, even if it’s not the gold medal they were hoping for. Martin Brodeur never saw disappointment in his father’s bronze, and he wanted Canada to regroup and go all-out to bring home the 3rd placed hardware.
The ragtag group of journeymen put on an inspired performance in the bronze medal game, earning a 6-4 win over the Czech’s. After the game; Assistant Captain and former Vancouver Canuck Andrew Ebbett said “No one wants fourth place, so we wanted to come out tonight and lay it all out there.”
Head Coach Willie Desjardins was also pleased with the outcome of the tournament and said it’s a moment that he will remember for the rest of his life.
Due to the NHL’s lack of participation, the Olympic hockey tournament garnered a less of a following than its predecessors. While Canada had come away with the gold medal in 2010 and 2014, one would expect the nation not to react well to the third place finish. This presumption was the exact opposite of what happened, the Canadian team received an outpouring of congratulations from fans and celebrities on social media as they celebrated their bronze medal of the ice at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.
While the level of hockey was not at the level it could have been, the cast of journeymen and rejects treated hockey fans to an exciting tournament at this year’s Winter Games. From Cinderella stories such as Germany, to Wojtek Wolski’s miraculous recovery after breaking his neck last year; the tournament did not lack intriguing storylines. Looking ahead to the 2022 tournament, it is unsure whether or not NHL owners will let their players play in Beijing but now it’s shown that a hockey tournament without NHL talents can still be entertaining.