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Kaberle, Czechs Win Bronze

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TURIN, Italy (AP) -- Right result, wrong game for the Czech Republic.

The Czechs beat Russia 3-0 in the Olympic men's tournament Saturday night and didn't even try to hide their disappointment.

It was one day too soon, for the bronze medal instead of the gold.

"Playing for the bronze medal is hard, very hard,'' Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun said.

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 less after losing in the semifinals a night earlier. Sweden beat the Czechs, and Finland shut out Russia.

"We're still disappointed with what happened with Sweden,'' said Vokoun, who platooned 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 offered congratulations in the crease _ an area the Russians couldn't penetrate.

But the celebration was muted. The Czechs smiled warmly when they received 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.

Those teams will 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.

In any case, this might be the final Olympic go-around for some of the aging Czechs like 34-year-old Jaromir Jagr.

"We played together for 15 years,'' he said. "We felt like this is the last tournament for us. We're not going to play for our country.

"It's so much pressure. We lose, and they blame us.''

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

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

Kubina was assisted from the ice and expects to see a doctor on Sunday.

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

"We just ran out of energy,'' Russian captain Alex Kovalev said. "When you take so many penalties, it's going to cost you eventually.''

Jagr injured a groin in the second period and went to the locker-room. He returned to the bench in the third but didn't play. He said it doesn't appear serious and he doesn't expect to miss any time.

Martin Erat gave the Czechs the lead just 4:48 in after taking a pass from David Vyborny, who moments earlier knocked him down in a centre-ice collision.

The Russians put the heat on late and outshot the Czechs 12-2 in the final period. They just didn't get quality chances. When a puck finally did get past Vokoun, the late goal was waved off because it was ruled that Pavel Datsyuk swatted the shot in with a high stick.

That preserved the shutout and gave the Czech Republic its second Olympic medal in the three times NHL players have been featured in the Games. It captured gold in 1998 with Hasek in the net.

Vokoun, who helped lead the Czechs to the hockey world championship last spring, regained his starting job from Hnilicka. Hnilicka got the opening nod from coach Alois Hadamczik in the quarter-final win over Slovakia and in the semifinal defeat against Sweden.

"He felt the team had a better chance to win without me, so it's just the way it went,'' Vokoun said. "Obviously disappointing for me but I'm glad we came out with a bronze.''

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