Switzerland-United States Preview
Uncertain expectations surrounded a young American team the last time the United States men's hockey team faced Switzerland at the Olympics, but that won't be the case heading into Wednesday's rematch.
A lot has changed in a week.
After three straight victories earned them the top playoff seed at the Vancouver Games, the emerging Americans can move into the semifinals with another win over the eighth-seeded Swiss.
This didn't appear to be the most likely scenario Feb. 16, when the United States was unspectacular while beating Switzerland 3-1 in the preliminary-round opener.
The Americans raised their game for a 6-1 win over Norway, but the real revelation came in their stunning 5-3 upset of host Canada on Sunday. That victory gave the United States the Group A title, the top overall seed and a bye to the quarterfinals.
"We've come a long way and coming into this tournament we were probably considered underdogs, but we have a good team and a good mix of players," forward Patrick Kane said.
About the only person who didn't seem impressed was U.S. general manager Brian Burke.
"I'm not happy with the way we played to this point," Burke said Monday. "We have to play significantly better. We need all hands on deck. We're playing with about 10 guys carrying us. Thank God there are some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope."
Goalie Ryan Miller, who was outstanding in making 42 saves against the Canadians, said Burke was trying to keep the team "appropriately paranoid" for what appears to be an easier-than-expected path to a medal.
The Americans will be heavy favorites against Switzerland, and they're guaranteed to avoid pre-tournament favorites Russia, Sweden and Canada until the gold-medal game.
"It puts us in a good spot, but it doesn't mean anything if we lose (Wednesday)," defenseman Brian Rafalski said. "It doesn't mean anything if you don't advance to the final.
"We can't take anything for granted because teams out here are going to try and upset us and have their own miracle out there."
On a team that features young forwards like Kane and Zach Parise, the 36-year-old Rafalski is the Americans' unlikely leader in goals (four) and points (five). He has four goals in 57 games this season for the Detroit Red Wings. Rafalski scored twice and fellow 30-somethings Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner added goals against Canada.
Some younger players made an impact last week against the Swiss, as 22-year-old Bobby Ryan scored on his Anaheim Ducks teammate Jonas Hiller before 25-year-old David Backes tallied the eventual game-winner.
"I thought we might have a chance, but in the end, we just weren't solid enough," Hiller said.
Along with New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, Hiller is one of two current NHL players on the Swiss team and the biggest reason the Americans would fear an upset.
He stopped 21 shots against the U.S. and 45 more against Canada before Switzerland lost to the hosts 3-2 in a shootout.
"We know what the Swiss do. We obviously know their goaltender," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "There won't be any surprises there.
"They're the team that has the least to lose in this tournament," Wilson added. "They are playing with house money."
Hiller, however, looked shaky at times during Switzerland's 3-2 shootout win over Belarus in Tuesday's qualification game, allowing the first goal after he failed to cover the puck.
The goalie regrouped to stop two of three shootout attempts and push the Swiss into the quarterfinals, where they'll try to take a more aggressive approach than they did last time they faced the Americans.
"We're coming at an all-NHL team for the third time. We feel comfortable," Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said. "We were definitely too timid in the first half of that game. We gave them too much space.
"It's more about being less timid and getting into their faces. I see them as the most physical-playing team in the tournament. We need to bring an absolutely perfect team game to even have a chance."