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Olympics Canada wins bronze in men's hockey – and gleans some perspective from a hockey legend

Canada hockey team celebrate with their bronze medals after beating the Czech Republic in the men's bronze medal hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

It was a text from Martin Brodeur that put the importance of a bronze medal in perspective.

The retired goaltender who won double gold for Canada at the Olympics has never won a bronze. But his father did as a Canadian goalie in 1956 -- that medal hung on the wall in the Brodeur household for decades, and meant everything to the family.

Read also: With men's hockey disappointment, Canada watches as others savour their moment

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That story, sent via text to Team Canada general manager Sean Burke before Saturday's 6-4 bronze medal win against the Czech Republic, formed the basis of an impassioned speech given to the team in the morning meeting.

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 – only glory.

"He said it with emotion and he said it with passion," head coach Willie Desjardins said of the speech Burke gave to the team. "Martin grew up with that, and for that to be special for him shows how special that medal is. And it's not maybe the one you wanted, but it's really special having an Olympic medal."

Less than 24 hours after a crushing 4-3 semi-final loss to Germany, in which Canada was badly outplayed in the first two periods and ran out of time trying to catch up in the third, the team needed to regroup for the bronze medal game. They decided to play for their country, for themselves, and for that moment, years from now, when they can look back on the medal with pride.

"No one wants fourth place, so we wanted to come out tonight and lay it all out there," assistant captain Andrew Ebbett said. "We wanted to make our mark tonight and go home with the bronze medal -- something you can show your kids and grandkids. It's special."

As Ebbett spoke, the bronze around his neck, the wounds from the loss to Germany still showed. His lip was held together by eight stitches, the result of a deep cut suffered the night before.

"I think I'm probably always going to think about that game last night against Germany. That was tough to go to sleep and deal with," Ebbett said.

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"We played 25-30 minutes in the semi-final at the Olympics, it's not enough, so it's going to be something that we'll probably regret for a long time. But this definitely helps ease the pain a little bit."

Canada got off to a quick start when Ebbett opened the scoring nine minutes into the game, the puck glancing off his skate into the net. After a semi-final in which the team felt like they couldn't catch a break, it was maybe a sign that Canada's fortunes would shift.

"Finally, we get a couple of bounces," Ebbett said.

But the Czechs tied it up a mere 16 seconds later on a goal by Martin Ruzicka, which was then answered 15 seconds later by Canadian captain Chris Kelly.

A goal by Derek Roy late in the first period put the Canadians up 3-1, and helped them gain control of the game, which they held until the end despite a late push by the Czechs. Ebbett and Kelly each scored once more, along with a tally from Wojtek Wolski.

Ebbett said the Canadian players were still angry when they got to the rink on Saturday.

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"Guys were down, you could see it when we came in this morning. The music wasn't on, and a couple of guys walked around and said, 'Hey, let's leave last night and just focus on tonight," he said, noting that he struggled to get over the loss too.

"I was a little quiet today, a little mad, and a little angry."

But the two-goal performance from Ebbett and Kelly – along with shot-blocking from Mayson Raymond, who dove in front of blasts from the point on two consecutive plays in the second-period – helped secure the win.

"We wanted to come out and show what we could do, and play a better game," Kelly said. "Canadians are proud people and there's 25 proud guys in there that want to represent their country the right way."

The game was closer and more intense than recent bronze medal matches at the Olympics. Four years ago, in Sochi, Finland blew out the United States 5-0 after the Americans lost to Canada 1-0 in the semi-final and looked disinterested in fighting for third place. In 2006, the Czechs shut out Russia 3-0 in much the same fashion.

But Saturday's game was a matchup of two countries who didn't want to be left off the podium. Coming in, the Czechs talked about the importance of adding to their medal count in hockey, with the country having just two medals – gold in 1998 and the bronze in '06 – since it began playing as the Czech Republic.

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For the Canadians, the medal was a chance for a group of journeymen hockey players, some cast-offs from the National Hockey League, others who never got a chance, to mark their place in the history books.

"That's the way their whole careers have gone, some things don't go the way they wanted, but they just don't give up," Desjardins said of the team. "I'm really proud of our guys because they battled through."

For Kelly, who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and is heading toward the end of his hockey career, the difference between having the bronze medal and being left off the podium is everything.

"It's something they can't take away from you," he said, looking down at the bronze around his neck. "That's nice."

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