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Opinion

Bronze medals worth their weight in gold

Hockey players will cherish experience in South Korea

Quinton Howden (16) celebrates with Chay Genoway (5) on their win in the men's hockey bronze medal game action against Czech Republic Saturday. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)</p>

Quinton Howden (16) celebrates with Chay Genoway (5) on their win in the men's hockey bronze medal game action against Czech Republic Saturday. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2018 (507 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — No, it’s not gold.

But it’s not nothing, either.

And that’s something.

A uniquely blue collar Team Canada men’s hockey team won the most blue collar of medals here at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, defeating the Czech Republic 6-4 in the bronze-medal game to salvage some hardware — and some pride — one night after they had been on the wrong end of one of the most memorable upsets in the history of international hockey.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2018 (507 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — No, it’s not gold.

But it’s not nothing, either.

And that’s something.

A uniquely blue collar Team Canada men’s hockey team won the most blue collar of medals here at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, defeating the Czech Republic 6-4 in the bronze-medal game to salvage some hardware — and some pride — one night after they had been on the wrong end of one of the most memorable upsets in the history of international hockey.

It was a gritty effort, by a group from a country where gold is expected whenever our hockey teams go overseas, and for whom bronze will be small consolation to many still wondering how on earth we ever lost to Germany in the semifinal one night earlier.

And it was also a measure of redemption for a Team Canada that had to be cobbled together with second-tier players from places such as the KHL, after the NHL decided to sit out these Winter Olympics.

Let’s be honest: this may have been Team Canada, but it was also not the team Canada wanted.

Yet, while they were unable to match the golds our NHL stars brought home from Sochi in 2014, Vancouver in 2010 and Salt Lake City in 2002, the bronze this lunch-bucket team earned Saturday is more than those same NHL stars were able to muster in either Torino in 2006 or Nagano in 1998, when Canada went home empty-handed both times.

Indeed, Canadian hockey’s long history at the Olympics is one of our teams either playing for gold — or coming home with nothing at all. This year marks just the third time ever that a Canadian men’s hockey team has won bronze at the Olympics — the last time was 50 years ago in Grenoble.

What does that tell you about just how hard it is for Canada to play for bronze in hockey?

And so, yeah, a couple of hockey journeymen such as Morden’s Chay Genoway and Oakbank’s Quinton Howden were quite rightly feeling pretty proud of their efforts as they left the ice following the victory over the Czechs for an accomplishment no one will ever be able to take from them: winning the Olympic medals hanging around their necks.

"It’s wild. What a roller-coaster," said Genoway, who played every game for Canada during this tournament.

"Last night was the biggest low of my career. And now, tonight, within less than 24 hours, it’s the biggest high. It’s a credit to every guy in that room. As hard as it was, we had to put that loss to Germany behind us because we had to win this game.

"We just had to."

It was a particularly satisfying night for Howden, who was a healthy scratch in Canada’s quarter-final win over Finland and semifinal loss to Germany, but who was reinserted into the lineup with a medal on the line and promptly chipped in an assist on Canada’s final goal.

"I can’t put it into words yet," Howden said. "This is probably the most special feeling I’ve ever had."

Chastened by a loss to the Germans that got away from Canada early, it was the Canadians on this night who were all over the Czechs from the opening whistle, carrying a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after the first period and never looking back from there.

"I didn’t want us to leave with our only mark being walking in the opening ceremonies," Team Canada head coach Willie Desjardins said. "I wanted something for us to leave with more than that. At least we got a bronze."

The men’s bronze here in hockey goes along with the silver Canada’s women’s team picked up following a shootout loss to the Americans on Thursday.

Put it together and these Games will represent the first time Canada hasn’t won at least one Olympic gold in hockey since 1998.

This being Canada, there will, of course, be hard questions asked of Hockey Canada.

While there is nothing to be said about a women’s team whose silver this year could just as easily have been gold in a contest that was decided in the sixth round of a shootout, the men’s loss to the Germans in the semifinal defies explanation — and so, will demand one.

No, Canada didn’t have its biggest stars playing for us here, but neither did the Germans, who in another world would have Edmonton Oilers sniper Leon Draisaitl, among a handful of other German NHL players, on the roster.

In a tournament that didn’t include the NHL, there was a case to be made that a country with the kind of hockey depth Canada has should have thrived.

There were 631,295 registered hockey players in Canada as of this past fall, according to the IIHF, which is exactly 610,649 more players than Germany has.

The Swiss have more hockey players than the Germans. The French — yes, the French — have more hockey players than the Germans.

And yet, it will be the Germans playing the Olympic Athletes from Russia for hockey gold today in the final event of these 2018 Winter Olympics, while Canada gets warm and fuzzy about that bronze.

Of course, if participation numbers alone dictated Olympic success, it would be a population behemoth such as the USA who would sit atop the medal standings instead of tiny Norway, which, with a population of just five million, have run away with the medal race, posting 38 overall as of Saturday evening compared to 29 for second-place Canada and 28 for third-place Germany, who will pick up their 29th after the gold-medal game. The Americans were fourth at 23.

With the possibility of maybe one more medal today in bobsled, Canada will leave these games having shattered the country’s all-time record for medals in a single Games, which had been the 26 won in Vancouver.

The difference, of course, is that in a country where not all golds are created equal — and hockey gold counts most of all — Canada won gold in both men’s and women’s hockey in Vancouver and won gold at neither here.

That’s a lot of weight for our hockey teams to carry around, but on this night anyway, Genoway was thrilled to be carrying it.

"My neck is sore already," Genoway grinned, looking down at the medal hanging from his neck. "These things are heavy."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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History

Updated on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 9:16 PM CST: Edited

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