Americans top Swiss, moving into hockey semifinals

Not quite "Miracle on Ice," but this year's US Olympic hockey team has been surprisingly dominant

Topics: Winter Olympics 2010,

It’s not quite a miracle, but this American run to the Olympic hockey semifinals sure is surprising.

Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller did his best to send the Americans home earlier than they hoped with an array of saves and stops through two-plus periods. Zach Parise finally figured him out with a pinballing deflection that gave his club the only offense it needed in a 2-0 win Wednesday.

Entering the tournament, U.S. general manager Brian Burke was quick to say that no one was betting on the Americans to win a medal in Vancouver. He wore the underdog role as a badge of honor and a call to arms.

After all, the U.S. left Turin, Italy, four years ago with one win and no medal. In Vancouver, they’re perfect.

“If you had said at the beginning of the tournament that we’d be 4-0 and the number one seed, everybody would say you are (crazy) or something,” U.S. coach Ron Wilson said.

The U.S. earned a Friday date with Finland with a spot in the gold medal game on the line. Finland knows all about the pressures of the medal round. The Finns skated off with silver in 2006 and have their sights set on the top prize after knocking out the Czech Republic with a 2-0 victory of their own Wednesday night.

Now the Americans are the top-seeded team in the final four, and it’s no longer stunning when they win. The biggest question after their victory over Switzerland was why this one was such a struggle.

The answer was simple: Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. The U.S. topped Switzerland 3-1 to open the tournament and were leery of a rematch against this dangerous opponent.

“Mentally, we were prepared for a tight game,” Parise said. “We thought that one goal would change the game.”

It did.

Parise got the first one early in the final period and then topped it with an empty-netter that sealed the win.

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“Our team was pretty relaxed going into third period,” Wilson said. “As coaches we had to go in and settle everyone down and say this is exactly the spot we expected to be in. Elimination games are the hardest in the NHL. To nail the coffin shut on somebody is the hardest thing to do.

“We were really proud of them for not ever losing their cool.”

Canada is riding big-time momentum into the semis following a 7-3 rout of co-favorite Russia on Wednesday. Just three days earlier, the host nation was in a panic following a deflating 5-3 loss to the United States that left the Canadians in the qualification round and needing a win over Germany to merely make the quarters.

“Chemistry starts to build when you play games,” said Canada’s Corey Perry, who scored two goals. “In a short tournament, you want guys to feed off each other and get chemistry going, and we’ve done that. Hopefully it continues to get better every night and we keep moving on.”

The next step for Canada is Slovakia, which stunned defending gold medalist Sweden 4-3 in the final game Wednesday night.

“It’s the biggest achievement for our country in its short history,” Slovak forward Miroslav Satan said. “I don’t think anybody counted on us to be in the last four, so that is something to enjoy. We’re going to have some work to do in the next game. They are probably the best team.”

One win in its final two games would ensure the United States of at least a bronze. A pair of victories would mean gold for the first time since the Miracle on Ice kids grabbed it 30 years ago in Lake Placid.

That possibility appeared to be in jeopardy Wednesday as the game wore on and Switzerland hung around on the strength of Hiller, who finished with 42 saves.

Parise, the top-line forward who struck posts with two other shots, got a puck past the netminder when he deflected Brian Rafalski’s point drive that didn’t take a direct route in. Parise’s tip bounced off the mask and arm of Hiller before it sneaked past his pad and inside the left post — 12 seconds into a power play.

“I predicted to our team this was going to be a one-goal game, potentially two goals if we scored into an empty net,” Wilson said. “That’s the way it shook out. I was perfectly content with the way we were playing standing behind the bench because we were controlling the action.”

Switzerland clogged up the middle of the ice, put constant pressure on U.S. puck-handlers with an effective forecheck, and seemed totally willing to wait for an American mistake that could turn into instant offense. Switzerland generated only 19 shots on goalie Ryan Miller, who posted the first U.S. Olympic shutout since Mike Richter in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The Americans claimed silver then on home soil to go with the two golds they won in 1960 and 1980 during U.S.-hosted Olympics.

“We want to win a medal — a gold medal,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father Bob was part of the team that rocked the Russians in Lake Placid and came home with gold. “We’re going to do everything we can.”

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