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The bronze-medal game is hockey's equivalent of life insurance. It's uninspiring. Nobody wants to talk about it. But maybe some day, years from now, you'll be glad you did it.

That's the situation Canada now finds itself in at the Olympics after its surprising 4-3 semi-final loss to Germany. If that previous sentence is a little hard to digest, German head coach Marco Sturm agrees.

"I know! Sounds crazy right?" Sturm said a few minutes after his team dispatched Canada and booked itself into the gold-medal game against Russia.

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Canada, meanwhile, gets the Czech Republic for bronze. And it won't be easy. The Czechs were the only team to beat Canada in the preliminary round, with a 3-2 shootout victory.

But bronze-medal games typically have less to do with skill level, and more to do with which team decides to show up for the game.

Just ask the Americans from 2014, a roster laden with stars such as Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise that some were calling the United States' best hope for gold since the 1980 Miracle on Ice. The 2014 team went shot-for-shot against Canada in Sochi, losing 1-0 in a hard-fought semi-final decided by a single redirected goal in the second period. The game could have gone either way, but Canada went on to glory, and the Americans, so deflated by the loss, walked into the bronze medal game like they didn't want to be there – and it showed.

The Americans lost 5-0 to Finland that day, in a contest that was over in the second period.

That's the risk. The Finns weren't necessarily better than the U.S., they just cared. And the Americans – based on their body language and their play – couldn't have cared less.

Heading into Saturday's game, then, Canada has its work cut out for it. After losing 3-0 to Russia in their semi-final, the Czechs have already declared they want the bronze.

"It's very important for us," Czech goalie Pavel Francouz said. "We don't want to go home without a medal, so we will do everything we can to win."

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Czech captain Martin Erat, never known as a clutch playoff performer during his National Hockey League career, said the same.

"We have to win," Erat said.

The Czechs don't have a lot of medals to their name – despite winning gold in Nagano in 1998, they only have one other medal, a bronze, from 2006.

The country only started playing as the Czech Republic at the 1994 Olympics. Before that it was Czechoslovakia. So the Czechs are trying to fill out their trophy case a little.

Not that winning a medal isn't important for Canada's roster of journeymen hockey players, who are drawn from European and North American pro and minor-pro leagues because the NHL took a pass on Pyeongchang.

Many of these players never thought they'd get a shot at an Olympic medal. Now they are here, and they had their hearts set on something better than bronze.

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"We're upset and disappointed," Canada's captain Chris Kelly said.

"I think we could have won gold," said defenceman Mat Robinson. "We're still not happy with the outcome and we never will be."

But now Canada must pivot and start preparing for bronze or nothing.

"We need to regroup and try to get out of this thing with a medal and something to wear proudly," Robinson said.

The trend in past bronze-medal games is one team is usually much more interested than the other.

The bronze won by the Czechs in 2006, where they defeated Russia 3-0, is a perfect example. The Russians were probably just as talented or better, but by that point in the tournament they were no longer competing for gold and they had largely checked out.

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Canada was in a similar situation in 1998. After their crushing loss to the Czechs in a shootout, the Canadians ended up in the bronze medal game against Finland, falling 3-2 in a lacklustre effort.

The one country that seems to know how to win bronze-medal games is Finland.

Since the Olympic hockey tournament went to its current format in 1992, Finland has won four bronze medals. In addition to dismantling the star-studded U.S. team four years ago, and edging out Canada in '98, they also downed Slovakia 5-3 in 2010, and shut out Russia 4-0 in 1994.

Finland may be onto something. The Olympic record books will forever show that Finland has those four medals, while the countries they beat will barely be remembered. That's the fate Canada is hoping to avoid, even if bronze wasn't the medal they came for.

The U.S. women's hockey team crushed Canada at the Winter Olympics for the first time since 1998. Reuters
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