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 Canada on Saturday night.
“We have to win,’’ Erat said.
The Czech team targeted a medal here, and that remains the aim despite now facing the country that won the last two Olympic titles.
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 will face Canada coming off a stunning 4-3 loss to Germany in the other semifinal.
“It stings a lot,’’ forward Rob Klinkhammer said. “Right now with the opportunity we had, we let a big one get away from us. We will let it sting a little and go from there."
Playing for bronze is not a game Canada is accustomed to playing in, having taken home bronze only twice in 21 previous Olympic men's hockey tournaments. Bronze is all the Canadians have left to play for now, and defenseman Maxim Noreau promised they will shake off a tough loss in time for the puck drop Saturday night.
“It's not the medal we wanted,’’ Noreau said. “But it's a medal and we can cherish that at least for the rest of our lives. We can't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves."