Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Czechs win bronze after rough contest

MEN'S HOCKEY The Czech Republic beat Russia 3-0 in a marquee matchup that easily could have been for Olympic gold medal in Italy


Silver medal winner Reinfried Herbst, left, gold medal winner Benjamin Raich, center, and bronze medal winner Rainer Schoenfelder, all of Austria, on the podium after the men's slalom final in Sestriere, Italy, Saturday.


Pavel Kubina's face was bloodied in the second period and his head was still foggy when the Olympic medal was placed around his neck.

The injured defenseman was dressed in his Czech Republic jersey and street clothes, and the medal that accompanied his makeshift outfit was bronze.

Two images he surely never envisioned, not after a shutout victory over Russia.

"Playing for the bronze medal is hard, very hard," goalie Tomas Vokoun said after the Czech Republic beat Russia 3-0 Saturday.

Vokoun made 12 of his 28 saves in the third period and the Czechs denied the Russians a men's hockey medal for just the second time since they joined the competition as the Soviet Union in 1956.

Both teams had first-place hopes but had to settle for something less exciting after dropping semifinals a night earlier to Nordic countries. Sweden beat the Czechs, and Finland topped Russia -- which was shut out for the second straight game.

"We're still disappointed with what happened with Sweden," said Vokoun, who shared goaltending duties with Martin Hnilicka after Dominik Hasek was injured early in the tournament, "but we won and I'm happy for that medal."

After the final horn, Vokoun's teammates skated to him and exchanged head bumps in the crease -- an area the Russians couldn't penetrate.

Dressed in white, the Czechs smiled warmly as they ducked down to receive their medals alone on the ice. It was probably just as well that they didn't have to look over and see Finland and Sweden take higher steps on the podium.

Those teams face off for gold on the final day of Olympic competition.

"For me, personally, bronze is a great result even if I'm sure that if we played better with Sweden, we would've been on the ice [Sunday]," Vokoun said.

Even with a roster filled with NHL offensive superstars, Russia -- which scored a preliminary-round high 23 goals -- found more disappointment in a tournament it is used to dominating.

The bronze medalists from four years ago in Salt Lake City, the Russians took home gold six times in seven tries but are now dealing with a four-Games losing streak. They didn't win a medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

Things were looking up for them after a convincing 2-0 win over gold-medal favorite Canada, the defending champs, before play turned sour during a lost weekend.

"It is frustrating, especially after the great quarterfinal," goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. "I thought we played well, and to come out that flat is frustrating."

Russia, which lost 4-0 on Friday after winning five straight, had its offense bolstered by the return of teenager Evgeni Malkin, who sat out against Finland as punishment for an infraction against Canada in the quarters.

But the Russians lost Ilya Kovalchuk -- their second-leading goal scorer -- after he was ejected for an elbow that bloodied Kubina's face and knocked him from the game.

Kubina was assisted from the ice and expects to see a doctor on Sunday. He said afterward that he felt tired but was still well enough to walk out to get his medal.

Marek Zidlicky made Russia pay during the 5-minute power play when he ripped a shot from the blue line off a pass from NHL-leading scorer Jaromir Jagr at 6:36. His New York Rangers teammate Martin Straka sealed it with 8 seconds left with an empty-net goal on the Czech's 15th and final shot.

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