Perhaps this was the result that did make the most sense.
If not for the talent level Hockey Canada was given clearance to showcase in PyeongChang once the NHL decided it wanted no part of South Korea, but for the significance that it would still have on the group involved.
Twenty-three players who surely stopped dreaming about this possibility altogether many, many years ago defeated the Czech Republic 6-4 on Saturday in the bronze medal match at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Together, they’d already failed in their bid to win the third consecutive gold for their country, but these players, long ago left behind in the Hockey Canada talent assembly line, did secure a sixth podium finish across the organization’s eighth attempt.
For that, these players should head back to their club teams, and exist relative obscurity in the minds of most Canadian hockey fans, with tremendous pride to go with their bronze medals.
It all felt uncertain throughout, though – even when Canada built up a four-goal advantage in the third period versus the Czechs. That said, it was an impressive performance overall in this context.
Managing both the weight of expectation and pressure with general indifference from factions back home throughout the entire tournament, the Canadians were left with insufficient time to clear a sudden mental hurdle – and one potentially more damaging: setting aside heartbreak to seize opportunity.
Losing 4-3 to the Germans in the semifinal, and being forced to stomach one of the more shocking upsets on international ice in some time, Canada fell into the unwanted and precarious position that has left the hockey power vulnerable – even when choosing from a complete talent pool – too many times before.
Simply put, it’s not easy playing for third, for Canada.
Sean Burke can attest.
Hockey Canada’s GM for the Olympics in PyeongChang was on the losing end in the final game in his previous Olympic experiences, both of which came under similar circumstances that brought his roster together.
In Albertville, that meant settling for silver. But four years before that – on home ice in Calgary – Burke and Team Canada failed where it hadn’t Saturday, finishing fourth.
Olympic experience unquestionably factored into Hockey Canada’s decision to appoint Burke. As it happens, the heartbreak that still exists for him today may just have had as much to do with Canada’s finish as his eye for talent.
Canadians searching for perspective in the 24-hour turnaround after the loss to Germany would have had to look no further than their general manager.
What was said exactly, if anything, is known only in the room, but surely the GM would have been able to impart some wisdom and helped inspire what was the most determined – and largely their most complete – performance of the entire tournament.
Then again, though, maybe his words weren’t needed at all.
Maybe the difference between this Canadian team and any other was the finality of it.
These players aren’t going to have the second chance like some had after the disappointment of Turin – or like Burke had when he put his NHL career on hold to try again four years later in Albertville.
Maybe this is where this Canadian team, made up of misfits, lesser-thens and late bloomers, was to succeed where others may have failed.
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