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Royals coach Patrick on 40th anniversary of Sarajevo Olympics: 'Important in my life'

Canada’s 2-0 loss to Sweden in the 1984 bronze-medal game still haunts Victoria Royals head coach James Patrick.
Royals head coach James Patrick. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When gold-medallist British figure-skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean returned to Sarajevo this week for the 40th anniversary of their iconic Bolero moment at the 1984 Winter Olympics, it brought back a rush of memories for Victoria Royals head coach James Patrick of his time at those Games as a hockey player for Canada.

A big part of the story is what happened to the city after the Olympics with many of the Games venues reduced to rubble, when Sarajevo was under siege during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995.

“I have this image in my head of this beautiful and historic city in which I walked around,” said Patrick.

“What happened to it was so sad. I felt a connection because I know that place. It’s important in my life and it was destroyed. I would love to go back some day.”

Olympic hockey was amateur at that time and future NHLers Patrick and Victoria’s Russ Courtnall qualified under that umbrella and played for Canada in the Sarajevo Games.

“To play in the Olympics was my dream and to do so in the Cold War era, to see what the 1980 U.S. Olympic team did at Lake Placid, gave you dreams and hopes,” said Patrick.

Canada’s 2-0 loss to Sweden in the 1984 bronze-medal game still haunts four decades later.

“It was a dream to win a medal and we played some really good hockey to get to the medal round,” said Patrick.

“It was scoreless well into the game. I still in my head remember the Swedish goals.

“It was heartbreaking and it hurts not to win a medal and to be that close. It would have been a life’s highlight. It stings to this day. They don’t just throw around Olympic medals.

“But I feel fortunate to have played in the Games and proud I was in the Olympics and that they were the Sarajevo Olympics.”

A lamentable feature of the 1984 Olympic tournament was all-time Victoria Cougars WHL points-scoring leader Mark Morrison being among four players disqualified from the Canadian team by the authorities just before the start of the Games for having played briefly in pro hockey.

“Mark Morrison was my roommate in the Olympic Village when the ruling came down,” said Patrick. “It hurt our team. Mark was one of our top-six forwards and that could have been the difference.”

Although Patrick had championship-winning success, including at the 1982 world juniors with Morrison and the 1987 Canada Cup with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, it’s only human to rue the ones that got away.

“I never won a Stanley Cup,” said Patrick, a 21-season NHL defenceman.

NHLers were allowed into the Olympics in 1998 at Nagano and will be playing in 2026 in Milan-Cortina.

“It was amateur in my time, but it’s a different world now. Time flies and you get old quick,” said Patrick.

But the memories from 40 years ago in an idyllic, but eventually-scarred city, will never fade.