Swiss can't be overlooked as USA begins tournament
Shawn P. Roarke
SWITZERLAND (0-0-0-0) vs. USA (0-0-0-0)
NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
What to watch -- The 2010 Olympic tournament kicks off with one of the most intriguing matchups of the preliminary round. While Team USA will be favored in this game, it is no slam dunk, especially if the Americans can't find their game early. The Swiss team can skate with anybody in this tournament and has pulled off upsets in the past. In fact, Switzerland stunned both the Canadians and Czechs in the preliminary round four years ago.
For the Swiss, it may all come down to goaltending. Four years ago, Martin Gerber stood on his head against the Canadians -- now it is Jonas Hiller, the starting goalie for the Anaheim Ducks, who will try to play giant slayer.
"That's what we will do tomorrow," Hiller said. "We'll try to play a perfect game and then we will have a chance."
Switzerland -- This is the final Olympic hurrah for national team coach Ralph Krueger, who is stepping down later this year after doing a masterful job of rebuilding the Swiss national program during the past 13 years.
Defenseman Mark Streit, who plays for the New York Islanders, has been with Krueger almost every step of the way as the Swiss have battled into the elite eight of hockey-playing nations. He says that Krueger's impending retirement has given the squad extra incentive.
"It's been a lot of good memories and a lot of good times," Streit said Monday. "We all, as a team, want to do really well and have a great tournament."
Streit, who could play upwards of 30 minutes a game, and Hiller are the only two NHLers on the Swiss roster
USA -- The Americans are not taking the Swiss lightly. They have scouted the exhibition games the Swiss have played in the run-up to the Olympics, as well as last year's meeting in the World Championships, a 4-3 OT loss in the second round of the tournament.
But they understand that the Swiss will have the advantage of having played and practiced together as a team for the better part of the past week, while the Americans had a grand total of one practice together.
"The preparation time, you don't have very much," coach Ron Wilson said. "We'll just have to adjust on the fly as we face the Swiss team on Tuesday. The challenge is building chemistry in a hurry. It's a big chemistry test."
And that process begins Tuesday in a very tricky game against a dangerous Swiss side.
Total NHL players in game -- Switzerland: 2; USA: 23
Puck Drop -- Team USA knows that it could have a tough time in this game as it tries to come together with limited practice time. So they are as concerned about that process as they are about the result -- although a win would be preferable.
"It's important to start finding your game and get something that you can focus on and use as a positive one way or another," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said Sunday. "Winning would definitely be the best thing. The key for us is to start playing well right away and build. You don't need to play your best game on Day 1, you need to do it as you are moving forward and hopefully we understand that."
NHL.com predicts -- The Americans win this game, but it won't be easy. Chemistry among the forward lines will take some time to develop and even when good chances arrive, Hiller will be equal to the challenge more often than not.