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U.S Wins Over Swiss In Olympic Opener

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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-- The youthful U.S. men's hockey team opened the Olympic tournament Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Switzerland.

Bobby Ryan scored late in the first period, and David Backes and Ryan Malone added goals in the second to help the United States avoid a repeat of an opening-game letdown.

During the 2006 Turin Games, the Americans began with a 3-3 tie against Latvia and never challenged for a medal.

``Once I scored, I was able to settle down and come back into my own a little bit,'' Ryan said. ``You definitely don't want to come from behind early. To get the lead, I think it settled the game down quite a bit for us.''

Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres goalie considered the key to the U.S. chances to reach the medals podium, made 14 saves. He calmly turned aside the handful of scoring opportunities the Swiss created and complied with rules barring corporate sponsorships by placing tape over the words ``Miller Time'' painted on his mask.

Miller's only blemish came with 10:15 remaining when a pass attempt by Roman Wick struck the goalie's outstretched stick and tantalizingly trickled behind into the net for a power-play goal.

``The boys did a good job in a tight first period,'' Miller said. ``Both teams were feeling it out. We created really well in the second.''

With only goalie Jonas Hiller and defenceman Mark Streit as regular NHL players, Switzerland put up some early resistance but couldn't sustain it. Hiller stopped 21 shots, facing only two in the third period.

The Americans have their youngest collection of players since the NHL began supplying the talent for the Winter Olympics in 1998, but they looked crisp and coasted to victory after a fast-paced start. Outside of a few missed connections on some passes, there was no clear evidence the U.S. team had only one practice before play began.

The U.S. roster has only three players who have been previous Olympians, and the average age of the team is just above 26.

``I'm sure some of these guys were nervous,'' said U.S. general manager Brian Burke, who also runs the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. ``This is the big stage.''

The physical nature was evident early in the first game of a tournament being held on an NHL-sized rink as opposed to the wider surfaces traditionally used in the Olympics. Both teams traded hits that pleased the crowd used to watching the NHL's Vancouver Canucks play in the same arena.

Despite the lack of NHL talent and household names outside Switzerland, the Swiss club is considered dangerous _ largely because of Hiller. Four years ago at the Turin Games, Switzerland earned surprising victories over Canada and the Czech Republic and could pose an upset threat this time in longtime coach Ralph Krueger's last year at the helm of the national team.

``I thought we might have a chance'' against the Americans, Hiller said. ``But in the end, we just weren't solid enough.''

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