There are no gold medals for finishing first in the preliminary round. All you get for that is bye into the quarterfinals and a presumably easier path to the gold-medal game.
The United States earned the No. 1 seed and a free pass past the qualification round. It was the easy game that eluded them.
In a rematch of their opening game, a spirited Switzerland team, led by the goaltending heroics of Jonas Hiller, gave the Americans all they could handle before falling 2-0 on Wednesday at the Canada Hockey Place.
“If we don’t get through the game today and Hiller stands on his head for another 10 minutes or something happens, our win against Canada and the other games in the preliminary round are all for naught,” said U.S. forward David Backes.
“I think that went through a few guys’ minds and I think you saw a little extra effort in the third and we get a 2-0 win.”
The U.S. played its most complete game of the tournament, being aggressive on the forecheck and disciplined in the defensive zone, outshooting the Swiss 43-19. The only thing that kept the game from becoming a blowout was Hiller, who is playing the same kind of hockey for the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL regular season.
“This was exactly the spot we expected to be in,” said U.S. Head Coach Ron Wilson. “Elimination games are the hardest games to win in the NHL, to nail the coffin shut on somebody is the hardest thing to do.”
Zach Parise added the offensive punch with his first two goals of the tournament.
“He was easily our best player,” Wilson said. “And in games like this, your best player has to rise to the occasion and you saw that today.”
It came down to an NHL-type game on NHL-sized ice where the puck bounced and rolled and players fought for every inch of ice. As the game cruised into the second period and beyond, the Swiss crowd grew louder along with the Swiss confidence that they could stage the major upset.
“That thought definitely crosses your mind but you have to block it out and stick to the game plan for 60 minutes and eventually hard work will get rewarded,” said Backes.
That hard work was rewarded early in the third period. With Philippe Furrer off for tripping, Parise curled in front of the net, tapped his stick on the ice and Brian Rafalski sent a shot that hit the blade of Parise's stick and puck fluttered and flipped over a diving Hiller and just over the line.
“We were able to use the good ice early in the period on the power play,” said Rafalski. “I saw Zach putting his stick in the air and saw a good lane to get it through to him and he got a piece of it and we got a little curling luck out there today.”
The Americans thought they had a two-goal lead when Ryan Suter’s wrist shot hit the back of the net, but officials waved it off as Ryan Kesler was called for a high sticking penalty. The whistle gave officials a chance to review an earlier play where the Swiss seemed to have scored bad angle shot hit the inside of the goal post.
“That’s the double whammy that’s happened to me before,” Wilson said. “The other team, then you take a penalty so instead of the score being 2-0, it’s 1-1 with them going on the power play. That was the hardest part of the game for me, the waiting while they reviewed the play.”
He didn’t face the same amount of shots that the U.S. put on Hiller, but Ryan Miller continued his solid play in the tournament picking up his first shutout of the tournament after stopping all 19 Swiss shots he faced.
The U.S. can take a deep breath and relax as they play the waiting game was they await the winner of the Czech Republic vs. Finland game.
“That was a tough game but we battled through it,” Suter said. “We could have easily folded the tents and said ‘Oh well, the goalie’s good and we’re not going to get one.’ That says a lot about the team.”
Harry Thompson is the editor of USA Hockey Magazine and will be covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for www.USAHockey.com. You can also check out his Olympic blog and Twitter posts at www.USAHockeyMagazine.com.
Tag(s): 2010 - Vancouver, BC