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As a new independent country, the Czech Republic joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1993 and won the World Championship in 1996. The Canadian Press reporter covering the gold medal game seemed more concerned with the Canadian loss, than with the victory by a superb Czech club that went undefeated in the tournament.
BY ALAN ADAMS
VIENNA - Heartbroken.
The Canadian hockey players who wore the Maple Leaf on their chests had heavy hearts yesterday after losing 4-2 to the Czech Republic in the final of the world championship.
Martin Prochazka's goal with 19 seconds left in the third period broke a 2-2 tie, creating euphoria for the Czechs and despair for the Canadians.
As the Czechs celebrated wildly, Canadian goalie Curtis Joseph went down on his hands and knees and stayed like that for about two minutes. Defenceman Luke Richardson also dropped to his knees and looked off into the distance. On the bench, players cried and stared into the stands.
As they waited for the medal ceremony to begin, the Canadians were herded into a corner under the end seats. Faces were drawn and downcast; they couldn't look at the Czechs.
"It made me sick to see that puck cross the line," said Ray Ferraro of Trail, B.C., home of the most recent Canadian amateur men's hockey team to win a world championship. "The guys played their guts out and there was not a whole lot to give. We should be proud of how we played, but, God, it is disappointing to come close."
The Canadian dressing room was eerily quiet after the game. There wasn't a word spoken for about 20 minutes, and when players did begin to talk it was in whispers.
On the door leading into the room, there was a poster where each player was asked to write in a dedication for the gold-medal game.
Some players named friends or family members who had died, or dedicated the game to their own families and children. There was a dedication to Brian Smith, the Ottawa broadcaster who was shot and killed last summer, and one player dedicated the game to teammate Kelly Buchberger, who left the tournament during the round-robin with a broken toe.
On the opposite wall, there were telegrams from fans, family and friends.
"I hope you awesome hockey players have a great game," nine-year-old Nelson Hertz of New Brigden, Alta., said in this message.
Late in the third period, overtime looked like a distinct possibility and the talk was about another possible shootout until Prochazka beat Joseph in the dying seconds. Jiri Kucera added an empty-net goal 16 seconds later.
"The first thought I had was for my father back home," Prochazka said. "He has a weak heart and I thought he might have a heart attack."
Joseph took the loss personally. He has said his biggest worry was letting his teammates down.
"You always want to win," he said. "You always work hard and try to be the difference. It's tough."
While the Canadians commiserated with each other, the Czechs were jubilant.
It was the first world title for the Czech Republic, which most recently had won the gold in 1985 with a unified team from Czechoslovakia.
"This is a new era of Czech hockey," head coach Ludek Bukac said. "We are a new country and to be already on top of the hockey world is a great accomplishment."
Ferraro said the Canadians need time to reflect before realizing what they accomplished.
"There are a lot of us who played a lot of years and never won anything, and to have a chance to win the world championship, to put that on your résumé when your career is over, was what we were all looking for.
"To get this close and not win is tremendously disappointing."