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Roger Bourbonnais remembers returning home empty-handed and in disgrace.

In the winter of 1964, he put aside textbooks to wear Canada's sweater at the Olympic hockey tournament at Innsbruck, Austria. He was among 16 players recruited by Father David Bauer, a Basilian priest and philosophy professor, who boarded his young team of amateurs in a house on the University of British Columbia campus.

A grand experiment to celebrate sports and scholarship had many critics who felt such a dream, however true to the Olympic ideal, would be crushed by the harsh realities of the Cold War.

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The critics would be right for the wrong reasons.

The skaters from Communist countries were professionals in all but name. Yet, Bauer's disciplined, sportsmanlike and tenacious youngsters came within two goals of winning a gold medal. They lost the final game 3-2 to the Soviet Union and ended the tournament tied with Czechoslovakia and Sweden, all sporting identical 5-2 records. The Soviets were alone atop the standings at a perfect 7-0.

Disappointment turned to disgust when officials ruled Canada had finished fourth. For the first time since hockey appeared on the Olympic schedule in 1920, Canada had failed to make the podium.

"To come back without a medal, that was unheard of," said Bourbonnais, 62, who is now a partner in a Vancouver law firm. "We had our tail between our legs."

The Olympic tournament also served as the world championship in 1964, and under world championship rules for settling ties, Canada had finished third. The Globe and Mail reported at the time that the players were too upset to attend the award ceremony (although they insist today they hadn't been invited).

Now, 41 years after the snub, the Canadians are to be awarded world championship bronze medals.

The decision, announced on the weekend by the International Ice Hockey Federation, is redemption, of sorts, for a team pilloried at the time and forgotten since.

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"It was always something you thought you should have had but never got," said goaltender Seth Martin of Trail, B.C. He got the surprising news in an overseas telephone call Saturday while watching Canada's 6-4 victory over Latvia on television. This year's world championship is, by happy coincidence, being held at Innsbruck.

Martin, who turns 72 on Wednesday, was chosen best goalie at the 1964 tournament. He was Canada's oldest player at 30, a veteran who had backstopped the Trail Smoke Eaters senior team to the world championship three years earlier.

The goalie was a steadying influence on Bauer's team, which had only one forward, Bob Forhan of Newmarket, Ont., with international experience.

"There was a good bunch of kids on that club," Martin said. "What we needed was one more goal scorer."

The players had been hand-picked by Bauer, whose ambition was to create the first national amateur program. The Nats, as they were called, attended classes by day and practised by night. Martin, a firefighter for a mining company in Trail, would travel to Vancouver to join the team on weekends.

During intense weeks of study and practice, a team dismissed by many as too young and inexperienced to challenge the Soviets quietly became convinced of its own ability.

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Bauer knew his hockey. He had been a top prospect as a youth but chose the Roman Catholic Church over Canada's secular religion. He was assisted in designing a national program by his older brother Bobby Bauer, a Boston Bruins star on the famed Kraut Line and coach of Canada's 1960 Olympic silver-medal team.

Prior to Innsbruck, Canada had been represented at the Olympics by senior teams, such as the Edmonton Mercurys, which won the 1952 Olympic gold medal. Canada did not win another hockey gold at the Olympics until the Salt Lake City Games, 50 years later.

Since Canada's best senior amateur players had struggled on the world stage, few expected Bauer's kids to have much success. Some feared Canada would be humiliated.

"We were not expected to win," said Bourbonnais, a feisty centre called the Little Red Devil by opponents. "But Father Bauer knew what he was doing."

Canada opened with an 8-0 victory over Switzerland, with the priest switching defencemen for forwards so as to not run up the score.

It was the first of five consecutive wins for Canada before falling 3-1 to the Czechs. The final game against the Soviets on Feb. 8 would determine the gold medal.

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Late in the second period, Canada enjoyed a 2-1 lead thanks to goals by Forhan and George Swarbrick. But the Soviets tied the game before the period ended and Veniamin Alexandrov scored what would be the game-winner early in the third.

"We were just 22 minutes away from gold," Bourbonnais said, the disappointment still keen.

The Canadians sat slumped in the dressing-room after the game. "Stone silence," Bourbonnais said. "Everyone just sat there. We had come so close."

Later, the players dressed in blazers to receive their Olympic bronze medals only to be told the tiebreaking rules had been changed by federation officials while the final game was being played.

Canada had been demoted to fourth place. The coach's sporting decision not to run up the score against lesser teams earlier in the tournament had been costly.

The unfairness of the verdict rankles even after four decades.

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"We got shafted," the team's general manager Bob Hindmarch said. "Robbed," Martin said. "Jobbed," Bourbonnais said.

As a lawyer, Bourbonnais knows there is no statue of limitations for correcting an injustice. He only wishes Bauer, who died in 1988, and blueliner Hank Akervall, who died in 2000, were around to share in a celebration put off for 41 years.

Where are they now?

GOALIES: Ken Broderick, 63, is in management with Tim Hortons in Toronto. Seth Martin, who turns 72 on Wednesday, is a retired firefighter in Trail, B.C.

DEFENCEMEN: Hank Akervall had success as a university coach and as a recreation director in Thunder Bay. He died at age 62 five years ago. Barry MacKenzie, 63, is player development co-ordinator for the Minnesota Wild. He lives in Sudbury. Terry O'Malley, 64, is president of Notre Dame College at Wilcox, Sask. Rod Seiling, 60, is president of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association. He is the only member of the 1964 team to also play in the 1972 Summit Series.

FORWARDS: Gary Begg, 64, a lawyer and engineer who developed real estate in Vancouver and Colorado, is now believed to be living aboard a yacht. Roger Bourbonnais, 62, is a partner in a Vancouver law firm. Ray Cadieux, 63, is a retired chartered accountant in Winnipeg. Terry Clancy, the 62-year-old son of hockey great King Clancy, plays for Toronto Maple Leafs old-timer teams. Brian Conacher, 63, is president of the NHL Alumni Association in Toronto. He is the son of Hockey Hall of Fame great Lionel Conacher. Paul Conlin, 62, is an Ottawa lawyer. Gary Dineen, 61, is a long-time junior hockey coach in Massachusetts. Bob Forhan, 69, a former mayor of Newmarket, Ont., is president and CEO of iPlan, a real-estate management firm. Marshall Johnston, 63, of Bemidji, Minn., is a retired coach.George Swarbrick, 63, owns an electrical business in Plattsmouth, Neb., south of Omaha.

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Source: Roger Bourbonnais, newspapers

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