Czechs’ Olympic gold hopes ended by Russians, Germans next?
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Czech Republic captain Martin Erat has played in the Olympics when the NHL sent it stars to the Winter Games, and he’s here now without the NHL’s best.
He sees every Olympic hockey tournament as an opportunity to win gold no matter who shows up.
That makes falling short of gold with a 3-0 loss Friday to the “Olympic athletes from Russia” in the semifinals so very disappointing.
“Every Olympics is wide open,” Erat said. “It doesn’t matter ... I been here when the NHL players all were here. I’m here now, and I think every Olympics got different stories, and this one we had a chance.”
Goalie Pavel Francouz got the Czechs to the semifinals by stopping the United States in a shootout victory in the quarterfinals. He made 19 saves with the Russians getting an empty netter with 3 seconds left for the final margin. The Czechs now have barely 26 hours to refocus on trying to take home their first bronze medal since 2006 at Turin. They will play either Canada or Germany on Saturday night.
“We have to win,” Erat said.
The Czech team targeted a medal here, and that remains the aim.
The Czech Republic has the bronze from 2006 and gold from 1998 in Nagano. That’s it for a country that only started playing on its own in 1994 at Lillehammer after competing as part of Czechoslovakia between 1920 and 1992.
So they don’t want to go home empty-handed.
“It’s very important for us,” Francouz said. “We don’t want to go home without medal, so we will do everything we can to win.”
They likely will face Germany, which plays two-time defending gold medalist Canada in the other semifinal game.
Germany certainly has benefited at least a little bit from not having NHL players at this tournament. They didn’t even qualify for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In Pyeongchang, they beat Switzerland and upset top-seeded Sweden to reach the semifinals, and at worst they will have a chance at their first bronze since 1976 and only the country’s third all-time — the only color they’ve ever taken home in Olympic men’s hockey.
“It’s a little bit surreal because nobody really thought it was possible for us,” German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said.
Being the underdog is nothing new for Germany, according to coach Marco Sturm.
“Canada’s the better team like all the other teams we played so far, almost,” Sturm said. “For us, nothing really changes. That’s why I think it’s going to come down to us. We know how Canada plays, and we just need that same effort and that same kind of togetherness.”
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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