United States-Norway Preview
A youthful United States team didn't appear all that green while winning its Olympic opener. That victory also might have calmed any remaining jitters the Americans had.
A strong performance Thursday over a club lacking recent Olympic experience, Norway, could give the United States even more confidence.
The Americans struggled to an eighth-place finish in the 2006 Turin Games despite a team that included accomplished NHL veterans Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight.
In response, U.S. general manager Brian Burke looked to emerging stars like Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan and Phil Kessel to fill out his roster for Vancouver.
Fourteen players were 25 or younger heading into Tuesday's opener against Switzerland. Only captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Drury and the team's oldest member, 36-year-old defenseman Brian Rafalski, had appeared in previous Olympic Games.
"I was much more nervous today than for any game I've been for a long time, that's for sure," the 22-year-old Ryan said. "Very, very jittery. And I think anybody going on their first Olympic Games is going to tell you the same."
Ryan helped calm himself and his teammates with a late first-period score. Fellow first-time Olympians David Backes and Ryan Malone added goals in the first 8:25 of the second as Team USA cruised to a 3-1 win.
"To get the lead, I think it settled the game down quite a bit for us," Ryan said. "I think we got into a little bit more of a rhythm and a comfort zone afterward."
Ryan Miller faced just 14 shots and only missed the shutout when a bouncing shot banked in off his stick midway through the final period.
Coach Ron Wilson said Miller will remain in net through the Vancouver Games unless something "drastic" happens.
While he's virtually set on a goaltender, Wilson has cause for concern at the other end of the ice after his club totaled just 24 shots - two in the final period - against the Swiss.
"We have to shoot the puck more and maybe be a little more selfish," Wilson told the NHL's official Web site. "You can't have a 35-minute practice and have everything work and clicking. You don't have anybody that plays on the same line on their NHL teams."
Wilson's club should have plenty of chances to work out the kinks against Norway, which was drubbed in its first Olympic appearance since hosting the 1994 Lillehammer Games, losing 8-0 on Tuesday to gold-medal favorite Canada.
Kane, though, refuses to view the matchup as a "practice game."
"We're looking forward to the challenge," he said. "It's a game we definitely should win and a team we should beat."
Norway's Pal Grotnes stopped 14 shots in Tuesday's first period to hold the Canadians scoreless, but couldn't hold off the host country after that.
Grotnes, a carpenter by trade, was pulled after giving up a fourth goal early in the third period. Replacement Andre Lysenstoen allowed the other four goals on 10 shots.
"It was a matter of time, maybe, but it was a lot of fun - in the first period," said Grotnes, whose team was outshot 42-15.
While Canada and the United States' rosters are stocked with NHL players, no one on the Norwegian team currently plays in the league. Defenseman Ole Kristian Tollefson is in the Detroit Red Wings' system and has appeared in 163 NHL games over five seasons.
Tollefson missed Tuesday's opener because of a family illness, but is expected to return to face Team USA. Norway, though, will be without 31-year-old forward Per-Age Skroder, who is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks after injuring his right ankle against Canada.
That absence should help the Americans, who need a victory to force a Group A championship showdown with the Canadians on Sunday night.
"Hopefully we grow together throughout this tournament and do something special here," Backes said.