VANCOUVER – Zach Parise wasn't given a spot on the U.S. Olympic team just to do one job. But everybody understood that he most definitely had a Job One.
That, of course, was to score goals.
Through three games, the New Jersey Devils' winger had done everything but. Wednesday afternoon, Team USA needed him to do nothing but.
Wednesday afternoon, Parise did his job. Because he did, the United States is in the 2010 Olympic semifinals.
Applying paddles to an American hockey heart that was beginning to palpitate, Parise redirected a Brian Rafalski shot just around the stupendous Jonas Hiller and just over the goal line 2:08 into the third period to break a scoreless tie. He then refused to be stopped from getting the puck out of the U.S. zone and then into the empty Swiss net with 12 seconds left to lift the young Americans to a spine-tingling 2-0 victory over terrifying Switzerland at Canada Hockey Place in the first of four quarterfinal games.
"That's kind of why he does what he does in the National Hockey League," American forward and sage Chris Drury said. "Zach is one of the better player sin the world. Today, he was just flying."
"He's been great all tournament. But today, he just seemed to have a little extra jump in his step and it showed all over the ice. He did stick with it. And he scored two big goals."
From the first shift of Team USA's Olympic opener against these same Swiss eight days before, Parise had been a highly-visible and largely effective presence. He has hunted down loose pucks relentlessly, played with heart along the walls and in front of the net and willingly paid whatever physical price necessary to get himself and the puck to where they needed to go.
"I mean, I was kind of happy with the way I was playing," Parise said. "But I knew I could play better. And I wanted to contribute more offensively."
He had three assists coming into the game. And his willingness to stand in the war zone in the slot on power plays created the havoc that led to several U.S. goals. He also played Quasimodo a few times, clanging pucks off posts and crossbars – he rang one of each Wednesday as well.
He and Chicago Blackhawks winger Pat Kane, the Americans' only other player with 25 NHL goals this season, had trouble complementing one another on the top line. So U.S. coach Ron Wilson removed Kane from the right of Parise and Paul Stastny late in the second-game rout against Norway and assigned the grittier, more straightforward Jamie Langenbrunner. That worked beautifully.
Parise was a force against Canada in Sunday's Group A clincher – the victory that gave the Americans the top seed entering elimination play and the easier path to the gold medal game. And he picked right up against the Swiss where he had left off in Group play.
He tested Hiller twice in the first period, but the Anaheim Ducks goaltender was too good. And he beat Hiller only to have the puck roll along the crossbar on the first shift of the third.
But just when the tension was beginning to get unbearable, he reached out and got his stick on that Rafalski wrister, creating a trajectory the Olympic curlers would have admired. Then, entrusted by Wilson to be one of the three U.S. forwards on the ice for the game's last shift, Parise chipped a puck past Severin Blindenbacher, powered through the Swiss defenseman's attempt to squeeze him into the boards and flipped the clincher into the empty net.
"A great performance from Zach Parise today," Wilson said. "I thought he was our best player. And in games like this, your best players rise to the occasion and you saw that today."
Said Rafalski: "He's been playing great. He's been all over the ice. He's been forechecking. He's been getting through the neutral zone pretty good. He's creating problems with his speed and his strength.
"He hit a couple of posts and crossbars in the game. He could have had a couple more."
On this day, a couple was enough. And utterly necessary.