Wednesday, February 24, 2010

USA-Switzerland Preview

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

A pair of teams which have already met in Olympic play kick off the quarterfinal round on Wednesday afternoon, as Team USA and Switzerland tussle with a berth in the semifinals on the line.

The Americans opened the tournament with a solid if unspectacular 3-1 decision over the Swiss last Tuesday, then dispatched Norway 6-1 before taking down gold-medal favorite Canada by a 5-3 count on Sunday to garner the top overall seed and a bye to the quarters.

Meanwhile, the Swiss lost to the Americans, took Canada to the shootout before falling, and topped Norway to earn a berth in the qualifying round. On Tuesday, Romano Lemm notched the winner in the shootout and Jonas Hiller made a key stop to end the game, as Switzerland pulled out a 3-2 victory over Belarus.

A victory for the United States will assure it a chance for a medal for the second time in three Winter Games, following a silver medal finish at Salt Lake City in 2002. Prior to eight years ago, the Americans had not won a medal since the Miracle on Ice team took gold at Lake Placid in 1980.

Should the Swiss shock the favored USA, they will not only improve on their sixth-place finish at Torino, but it also means the land-locked nation is guaranteed their highest finish since fifth place in 1952. Switzerland has not medaled since winning the bronze in 1948 at St. Moritz.

The Americans have to be careful that they don't have an emotional letdown from the high of stealing the game Sunday plus two extra days off before starting the one-and-done portion of the tournament. They also need to do something sorely lacking in their first four contests: taking their game to the opposition for a more consistent period right from the start.

Although the goaltender is the last line of defense, Ryan Miller simply cannot be asked to perform even close to the way he did against Canada. He is capable of turning in the necessary solid effort today, and it might not take much to outduel Jonas Hiller, who battled the puck at times in Tuesday's win and gave up two preventable scores in regulation. Unless the Swiss have been holding out, Hiller's sharpness is the only thing that will give them any kind of edge.

Any team built on character and hard work and pieces fitting together doesn't always have it easy on the path to success, although the result should still be pleasing: USA 4, Switzerland 1
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