U.S. can't rest on its laurels as it prepares for Swiss in quarters
The U.S. begins the medal round just as it opened the tourney: facing the Swiss
Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller is playing superbly and is capable of stealing a game
The Americans, despite beating the Canadians, remain an underdog in the tourney
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Five things to know going into Team USA's quarterfinal game against Switzerland.
1. The day after Team USA derailed Canada, 5-3, in the last game of the preliminary round, U.S. general manager Brian Burke came out and said that despite the three wins and the first-place seed, he wasn't happy with the way his team had performed so far. "If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting where we want to get in medaling," he said. "We have to play significantly better. We need all hands on deck. We're playing with about 10 guys carrying us in my opinion." What's with all the negativity, you ask? Well, firstly, it's the truth. Says winger Patrick Kane: "True words spoken. Even though we're in first place, we know we can be better. That's probably a good sign of things to come." Team USA had given up too many odd-man rushes in their first two games, and against Canada they got a little sloppy in the neutral zone and gave up "a lot of Grade-A scoring chances where [goalie Ryan Miller] had to bail us out," says forward Dustin Brown. And secondly, Burke was giving his team a gentle -- or as gentle as the truculent G.M. can be -- reminder that the win over Canada hasn't earned anyone a gold medal and didn't send anyone packing. That part begins now.
2. With the Swiss advancing past Belarus in the first qualifying playoff Tuesday, 3-2 in a shootout, the U.S. and Switzerland will meet for the second time in the tournament. Team USA opened with a 3-1 win over the Swiss in a game that was a pretty physical. "They're more North American than you think," Brown says. "I think that surprised us a little." This could be a really difficult game for the U.S., if they begin to look forward or underestimate a team that has been playing surprisingly well. "They're obviously the team with the least to lose in this," Wilson says. "So they're playing with house money." What might help the U.S. is that the Swiss will be playing just a day after a spirited overtime game against Belarus.
3. The key to the Swiss team is their goalie, Jonas Hiller, who backstops the Anaheim Ducks. With several superb performances under his belt in this tournament -- Switzerland took Canada to a shootout in their second game -- Hiller has game-stealing qualities, much like the goalie for Team USA. "If you're a kid goaltender watching [Miller vs. Hiller], that would be an awesome opportunity to see what [they] are doing," says winger David Backes. "He's dynamic in the net, he steals games for the Ducks.... He's definitely an X-factor." Miller, also, is coming off a spectacular game against Canada, in which he made 42 saves against one of the most potent offenses in the tournament. "At the end of the day, we can't rely on him that heavily," Brown says. "And if we can tighten up our D-Zone, that could go a long way."
4. The last time a team finished first in the preliminary round and went on to medal in the Olympics was 1988, the year Kane and defenseman Erik Johnson were born. That was something head coach Ron Wilson told his team Tuesday morning at practice and again to reporters later. "Just a couple reminders there," says defenseman Brooks Orpik. "[The first seed] puts you in a better position to succeed, but it doesn't guarantee you anything." It is a significantly better position, though. The U.S. will avoid seeing Canada, Russia or Sweden, who are all on the other side of the bracket. That is not to say that the U.S. will walk on through the gold medal game, but letting those three teams duke it out amongst themselves saves the U.S. a lot of energy.
5. Team USA is still the underdog. "The best two teams in this tournament are still [Russia and Canada]," Burke said. "You guys were there. We got outchanced 2-to-1 last night." And the team's goal is gold and nothing else. "We didn't come here to get a participation medal.... I already have a ball mark; it's the participation medal," says Wilson, a low handicapper. "But I'd rather throw out a big gold medal like this and have people putt around it this summer." He is speaking, of course, metaphorically, since coaches don't get medals at the Olympics.