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Team USA beats Switzerland 3-1 in Olympic opener

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
VANCOUVER -- Youth and a lack of experience was supposed to be the bugaboo for Team USA in the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament.

That certainly wasn't the case in Tuesday's Group A opener at Canada Hockey Place.

The Americans took a 3-1 victory against the Swiss on the backs of two of its youngest players -- Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and David Backes of the St. Louis Blues.

Ryan, who at 22 isn't even the youngest player on this team, scored the game's opening goal with 61 seconds left in the opening period to settle down a jittery American side and catapult it to a very important win. The 25-year-old Backes scored on a beautiful end-to-end rush that should be one of the highlights of the tournament

Ryan Malone, a graybeard on this team at age 30, got the other goal, scoring on a power play. All three players were playing in their first Olympic game.

But it was the goal by Anaheim's Ryan, playing as part of a four-player rotation on the fourth line, that set the tone for the game.

"That (Ryan's goal) was huge, especially late in the period," American captain Jamie Langenbrunner told NHL.com. "Late goals are usually backbreakers or big momentum swingers. That definitely catapulted there in the second."

Not surprisingly, the Americans used the emotion provided by the Ryan goal to get two more goals in the second period -- a beautiful end-to-end rush by Backes and a power-play rebound Malone -- to build a big enough cushion to survive a scrambly third period.

"It was disappointing to see them get (the goal) at that time," Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said. "It was looking like we were going to get through (the first), and that was something we wanted to do. It was a bit deflating"

While Ryan’s goal deflated the Swiss, it picked up the Americans, especially because it was the kind of goal that this team will need to score if it hopes to fight its way into medal contention.

On the goal, the fourth line -- both Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan took turns as center between Backes and Ryan -- was hard on the forecheck, pinning the puck in the Swiss zone. Ryan challenged Switzerland's Thierry Paterlini along the half boards as the Swiss forward tried to clear the puck and was able to get it free and shovel it -- from his knees -- to the point.

Swiss defenseman Rafael Diaz batted down the high wrister by American defenseman Brooks Orpik but it fell invitingly into the high slot and right to Ryan, who beat everybody to the loose puck and fired a high wrister that beat Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller, his NHL teammate, past his right shoulder.

"I was looking (high) and glove side, which is where I wanted to go," Ryan said. "I closed my eyes at the right time and found the right angle. There were four or five guys in the mix and Drury was screaming at me before I got to the puck to shoot it. And I didn’t waste any time, I just got the puck through and I got lucky."

It was a great moment for Ryan individually -- and an even better moment for Team USA, which struggled from the first puck drop four years ago in Turin and finished an unsightly eighth.

"It's always nice to score goals wherever you are," Ryan said. "But on this level, and on this stage, it takes on a whole lot of meaning. It’s certainly one that I’ll remember forever."

Entering the tournament, there were considerable questions about GM Brian Burke's decision to construct a roster featuring so many younger players with limited experience at the senior National Team level. There was also some skepticism with the decision of Team USA management to find players to do specific jobs, as opposed to selecting the most-skilled guys in the American talent pool.

For example, Drury, one of the most accomplished players on this team, is only playing part-time center on the fourth line and killing penalties in this tournament.

On Tuesday, however, that plan worked to perfection, with Roman Wick's bad-bounce goal on the power play in the third period the only thing marring the good vibrations coming from Team USA.

Wick's goal certainly changed the tenor of the final 15 minutes and made the Americans a wee bit nervous as the Swiss gained confidence and carried the play for much of the third period.

"We didn't have much left in the third," coach Ron Wilson admitted. "I thought we were hanging on a bit. In the third period, we got sloppy. The way the second period ended, our players expected more or less the same in the third."

The fact that they didn't get an easy ride in the third may be a good thing as it provided a teachable moment to this team, a moment in time that Wilson and his staff will stress for the next two days.

The Americans are back in action Thursday against the Norwegians before closing pool play with Saturday's showdown against Team Canada – a game that likely will determine the group champion and assure a bye into the quarterfinal portion of the tournament. Canada played Norway later Tuesday in its first game and will play Thursday against Switzerland.

There is certainly some concern that the sloppy third period might carry over against the Norwegians, but this young team has proven to be a quick study -- as evidenced by their showing Tuesday afternoon.

"I think we're going to have to realize the situation of games a little better," Langenbrunner told NHL.com. "We got caught on some 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s late in the game, which we can't do. We have to realize the time and the score and play accordingly, play winning hockey.

"That'll come. Everybody wants to do their best out there and create things, and the more we get relaxed and the more we feel comfortable we'll get better."

GAME SUMMARY

SCORING
USA 1 2 0 - 3
SUI 0 0 1 - 1

First Period

1. USA, Ryan (unassisted) 18:59

Penalties - Blindenbacher SUI (holding) 9:49.

Second Period

2. USA, Backes (unassisted) 5:52

3. USA, Malone (Suter) 8:25 (PPG)

Penalties - Sannitz SUI (hooking) 6:53, Weber SUI (delay) 11:21.

Third Period

4. SUI, Wick (Domenichelli, Streit) 9:45 (PPG)

Penalties - Pavelski USA (hooking) 4:49, Suter USA (roughing) 8:32.

SHOTS ON GOAL
USA  8 14  2 - 24
SUI  5  4  6 - 15

Goaltenders (goals-shots against) - USA: Miller (W, 1-15); SUI: Hiller (L, 3-24).

Power plays (goals-chances) - USA: 1-2; SUI: 1-3.
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