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Swiss a revelation in Krueger's last tournament

Wednesday, 02.24.2010 / 10:14 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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Swiss a revelation in Krueger's last tournament
VANCOUVER -- It was not the parting gift Ralph Krueger was imagining.
 
No, the departing Swiss coach had bigger things in mind than a gritty 2-0 loss to Team USA in the Olympic hockey tournament quarterfinals that put paid to his tenure with the Swiss national team.
 
Krueger, the Canadian-born Swiss coach, walks away having brought the program to prominence. What the future holds -- a job with another European club team or perhaps a posting in North America -- nobody knows, but it is safe to say it was the last thing on Krueger's mind Wednesday.
 
On this day, he was looking for a miracle, an act of god that would prolong his time as coach of this special Swiss team, a team he has painstakingly developed during the past decade as the dean of the national team.
 
"We came here wanting to compete and wanting to keep the game open as long as possible," Krueger said minutes after his team was eliminated and the Americans advanced to a semifinal date against either the Czechs or the Finns.
 
"We would have needed a miracle today," Krueger admitted when it was over. "In the end, the Americans were the better team."
 
Despite the Americans' dominance -- they outshot the Swiss, 32-8 through two periods -- the game hung in the balance as it entered the final period and more than one American admitted to squeezing his stick as Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller made save after save.
 
Yes, Hiller was the main reason the Swiss were still in the game as the third period began, but there were other elements at play as well.
 
The Swiss are a far deeper team than they have been at any other point in recent memory.
 
They are now producing NHL-caliber players, including defenseman Mark Streit, who was a rock throughout the tournament, and young defenseman Luca Sbisa, who is part of the next generation.
 
They are as fundamentally skilled as any team in this tournament. In fact, most teams would be hard-pressed to skate with the Swiss. Wednesday, they were playing their second elimination game in as many nights, but their effort never flagged.
 
They also have a belief now that they can win big games. Four years ago in Turin, they beat the Canadians 2-0 in pool play. This time around, they forced the Canadians to a shootout before losing 3-2.
 
In five Olympic games in Vancouver, the Swiss never lost by more than two goals, winning a shootout, losing a shootout and winning another game in OT.
 
"These players have come a long way to be able to compete at this level," Krueger said. "They believed in an opportunity to play for a medal, which from the outside may be unrealistic.
 
"We wanted to entertain the people and I think we did that."
 
The Swiss did not entertain their opponents, but they certainly earned their respect.
 
"I don’t think some people give the Swiss enough credit," American Ryan Kesler said. "They play a very sound team game. They took Canada to overtime. Every other game except our two they took the team to overtime, so they played a solid game and you see what a hot goalie can do for a team."
 
American forward David Backes played against the Swiss in the World Championships and is familiar with their conservative style, but he has never seen them play quite at the level they did in this tournament, especially in the quarterfinal game.
 
"How about how hard the Swiss team was playing?" Backes asked NHL.com. "Second game of a back-to-back against a team that has beat them already and they left it all out there on the ice, no question about it.

"They were hitting harder than I have ever seen the Swiss hit, skating faster than I have seen them skate, jumping into the play. They were really good and, obviously, Hiller was phenomenal."
 
And it may be the fact that Switzerland played so well that made the loss hurt so bad for the Swiss players.
 
"It hurts so much more to lose a game like this," Sbisa said.
 
But when the pain eases, Krueger knows that he and his players will look back fondly on this experience.
 
"I think 10 years from now, these guys are just going to remember the hockey that was played here and they will be proud of what they accomplished," Krueger said.
 
So maybe it wasn't such a bad going-away present after all.