GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) – The Germans stood on the ice scowling as the Russians celebrated a gold medal that was so nearly theirs.
They were 56 seconds away from Olympic gold before losing 4-3 to the “Olympic athletes from Russia” in overtime Sunday. After no one outside their locker room gave them a chance in a tournament where the NHL stars stayed away, the Germans came within a minute of clock time from gold for a country playing in the men’s final for the first time.
“I think if you are that close, you are disappointed right after,” forward Gerrit Fauser said. “But it will take a few hours to realize what we have done here. Obviously it is a big success for Germany, but right after a loss, when it is a close game like that, it is tough.”
Germany had only managed bronze twice before and not since 1976, as West Germany.
Captain Marcel Goc said simply making it to the final still sounded a little unreal even after the game.
“Once we get home and get off that plane and get the stories from friends and family, we will realize what happened and I think we can be proud,” Goc said. “I don’t think we have to go out of this game and say we lost. We won the silver medal here and can be proud of it.”
Jonas Muller gave Germany a 3-2 lead with 3:16 left in regulation, but the Russians knew what the Germans had done in getting to this point. Germany edged Switzerland, beat Sweden 4-3 and then stunned two-time defending gold medalist Canada 4-3 in the semifinals.
Russian defenseman Andrei Zubarev said he thinks the Germans had been somewhat underestimated after having to qualify.
“I think the other teams got burned precisely because they didn’t think that the German national team could beat them,” Zubarev said. “The same situation probably happened to us a little bit.”
Then Sergei Kalinin went to the box for tripping, giving Germany a power play. The Russians pulled the goalie for the extra attacker to even things up, and Nikita Gusev tied it up with his second goal of the third period with 55.5 seconds to go.
“It was the higher powers from above who granted us these medals,” Zubarev said.
Goalie Danny aus den Birken made a great pad save to stop Ilya Kovalchuk at the post 6:30 into overtime. Then Germany’s Patrick Reimer went to the box for high-sticking Pavel Datsyuk, and Kirill Kaprizov scored 29 seconds later to start the Russians celebrating with smiles, hugs and even singing their national anthem over a recording of the Olympic anthem during the medal ceremony.
Felix Schutz and Dominik Kahun also scored for Germany. Aus den Birken made 26 saves.
Having the weight of a medal around their necks, even the shade of silver, helped some of the Germans start feeling better by the time they talked with reporters just off the ice.
“Nobody expected really that we would make the final,” aus den Birken said. “We said we’re going to have a chance to do something here. But we come this far. This is more than fantastic.”
Germany coach Marco Sturm said he feels great, even with knowing the Germans could’ve won. This is only the third Olympic medal in Germany’s hockey history, adding silver to bronze won in 1976 at Innsbruck and 1932 at Lake Placid. The Germans didn’t qualify for the Olympic men’s tournament four years ago in Sochi and finished 11th in Vancouver.
“We all thought we would be sitting at home watching that final on the couch at home, but here we are,” Sturm said. “The boys are going to bring silver home, and they should be very proud.”