United States-Switzerland Preview
Younger? Certainly. Better? That remains to be seen.
A decidedly more-youthful version of Team USA hits the ice
Tuesday against Switzerland in the first men’s hockey game at the
It could be said that fielding a younger team was a necessary
change, and recent history bears that out.
Eight years ago in Salt Lake City, players like Brett Hull, John
LeClair and Mike Modano helped the Americans win silver, ending a
medal drought that stretched back to the “Miracle on Ice” team in
1980. The squad in 2006 featured much the same core, including
grizzled veterans Chris Chelios, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and
With a wealth of experience – and an average age pushing 32 –
the Americans looked worn out and finished eighth in Turin.
It was clear that a new generation of NHL stars like Alex
Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby would go on to represent their
respective countries in international play. Clearly, it was time
for the United States to follow suit.
When this year’s team was unveiled on New Year’s Day, general
manager Brian Burke emphatically forged a new direction. Fourteen
players in Vancouver are 25 or younger compared to three that went
“Why did we go this way?” Burke said. “Because we think we’ve
got better players.”
That doesn’t mean it was an easy change to make.
“To steal a line from Tom Brokaw, the ‘greatest generation’ we
have had was this group,” Burke said of the veterans that had long
been synonymous with US hockey. “To turn that page took a great
deal of soul searching and a great deal of agonizing.”
Only Chris Drury (33 years old), Brian Rafalski (36) and
then-reserve Ryan Miller are holdovers from Turin. The 29-year-old
Miller, a five-time 30-game winner with Buffalo, likes the
“It’s exciting for a new generation. There’s a lot of people on
this team who are very excited to be here, not that some of the
other players wouldn’t be,” he said. “There is a freshness about
it, and there is a little bit of that that ‘Maybe they don’t know
Miller will see most of the playing time in goal, and also
sounds like someone who doesn’t expect things to be much different
from what he normally faces.
“We’ve all played NHL games,” Miller said. “It really comes down
to just another series of games where you have to play tight, you
have to play smart, and it’s going to be against world class
talent, just like every night we play.”
He’ll be backed up by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas
of Boston – a first-time Olympian and greybeard at 35. Los Angeles’
Jonathan Quick is just 24, but leads the league with 35 wins.
If the forwards Burke selected learn to play together quickly
under coach Ron Wilson, success may not be that far off.
At 21, Chicago’s Patrick Kane has reached 25 goals for the
second straight season. Bobby Ryan is a year older, but leads
Anaheim with 28 goals after scoring 31 as a rookie in 2008-09. New
Jersey’s Zach Parise is 25 and closing on his fourth straight
On defense, Rafalski – a three-time Stanley Cup winner with
Detroit and New Jersey – returns for his third straight Olympics.
His presence will be invaluable to a unit that includes budding
stars Jack Johnson (23) of Los Angeles and St. Louis’ Erik Johnson
The Ducks’ Ryan Whitney and Carolina’s Tim Gleason, both 27
years old, will make their Olympic debuts in place of the injured
Paul Martin (arm) of New Jersey and Toronto’s Mike Komisarek
Burke is fine with the fact that there will be growing pains
with such a youthful squad. Expectations heading into western
Canada are tempered at best.
“We have no illusions or delusions about this tournament. We
will go in as underdogs, and we are confident of that and
comfortable with that,” he said. “All of the money is going to be
bet on Canada and Russia and Sweden to a lesser extent, and that’s
fine with us.”
Switzerland comes to Vancouver looking to give veteran coach
Ralph Krueger his first Olympic medal in 13 years before he steps
down after the World Championships later this year.
But Krueger will have his work cut out for him. Switzerland
looks to follow up a sixth-place finish in Turin four years ago –
its best showing since winning the bronze medal in 1948 as host in
Their biggest star is captain Mark Streit of the New York
Islanders, one of 10 returning players from the 2006 team. Streit
led New York with 56 points in 2008-09, becoming only the second
defenseman since the 2004-05 lockout to lead his team in
In goal is Jonas Hiller, who’s won 26 games with Anaheim this
season and became the clear-cut starter after Conn Smythe-winner
Jean-Sebastien Giguere was dealt to the Maple Leafs earlier this
month. Martin Gerber, a Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006,
Up front, perhaps the most recognizable name is Hnat
Domenichelli, who played with four NHL teams from 1996-2003. The
Canadian-born forward has spent the last seven years in the Swiss
League, making him eligible to represent that country in the