Americans score first men's hockey win in Vancouver

BY foxsports • February 16, 2010

It was one of those plays that will make you a national hero in an instant.

With the U.S. leading Switzerland 1-0 just over five minutes into the second period, one sprawling save by Ryan Miller led to a rush up ice by David Backes. And with one simple flick of the stick, the St. Louis Blues forward freed himself from defenseman Yannick Webber, coasting cross-ice before putting the puck in the back of the net.

It put the Americans up 2-0; it was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“It was just one of those times where the goalie makes a big save and it just bounces out there,” Backes said. “We got some momentum. There are a few guys trapped and I just tried to use my big butt to make a play. “

And in matter of seconds, the 25-year-old forward from Minnesota went from a relative unknown outside the hockey world to the new face of USA Hockey.

“We knew the Swiss weren’t going to roll over,” Backes said. “They’re here for a reason. We knew what they did to the Canadians four years ago and we knew they were formidable.”

The goal was the turning point in a 3-1 U.S. victory that was physical and hard-fought. The game also allowed one of the youngest clubs in the tournament to get its feet wet on the big stage. Backes' coast-to-coast streak set aside the jitters on the American bench and allowed them to further capitalize three minutes later when Ryan Malone put home a rebound on the power play, placing the Red, White and Blue in cruise control.

“That second one was really big for us,” said U.S. forward Bobby Ryan. “It really settled things down for us on the bench and the guys fed off the energy of seeing Becks go 190 feet for us.”

One lucky bounce led to 190 feet of pure adrenaline, which led to two points and put the Americans atop its group at the end of the first round of games, as they expected to be.

“If the puck goes a few inches here or there, they tie it up and it’s a whole different ballgame,” said defenseman Brian Rafalski, one of the returning members from the 2006 Olympic squad.

“It was a tremendous play by Dave. He skates, throws around his body and has a nose for the puck at just the right time.”

Backes was also instrumental in the game’s first goal, a wrist shot off of Ryan’s stick that goaltender Jonas Hiller never saw thanks to solid forechecking in front of the net. In a game of bounces and inches, what you can’t see is always more dangerous than what you can.

And plays seemingly small and routine in nature magnify themselves under the Olympic spotlight.

“I’m all for the cause and winning as a team first,” Backes said. “Any way I’m able to help out, I’m willing to do it.”

Backes is just happy to be here with his fighter’s punch and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Never seen as a pure scorer, his career high of 31 goals in 2008-09 is misleading because that’s not what he really is as a player. And you can bet U.S. general manager Brian Burke was just as impressed with his ability to muck it up with just about anyone.

That includes a trio of Team Canada forwards over the last month and a half. First Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, then Anaheim’s Corey Perry and then finally Columbus star Rick Nash, knowing full well five minutes with them off the ice is far more important to his club than five minutes with him out there.

“I’ll probably end up bleeding during the game and getting my face dirty,” Backes said of his game.

Just the type of attitude the Americans need if they’re going to have success against the more talented teams here in this tournament.

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