- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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The U.S. men’s hockey team takes on a dangerous Swiss team in their quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday afternoon. It’s a rematch of each team’s first preliminary game, won by the Americans, 3-1.
Switzerland might be the kind of underdog team no one wants to play. They’ve already gone to three shootouts, winning two of them, while keeping the U.S. game close enough for some concern.
As the No. 1 seed coming out of the prelim games, the Americans now have a bull’s-eye squarely on their backs. They aren’t sneaking up on anyone. The biggest surprise might be their defense.
In the upset win over Canada, not only did they keep the potent Canadian offense in check, the defense contributed five points, including two goals. As NBC analyst Eddie Olczyk pointed out recently, the Americans don’t have a defenseman among the NHL’s top 25 in scoring. Brian Rafalski’s four goals easily leads all blueliners in this Olympics and is more than most teams have scored from their defense combined. It also matches his total in 57 games this season for the Detroit Red Wings.
Switzerland has played pretty much the same no matter the opponent. The smaller rink has benefited the tight checking unit while smart hockey has been their best weapon. Of the teams outside the top six or seven, the Swiss are probably the most dangerous. They almost pulled off an upset themselves against Canada, losing in one of those three shootouts. Not bad for a team extremely light on NHL players.
The game is at noon, local time, but Brian Burke probably won’t be complaining.
Burke, the general manager of Team USA , didn’t like the fact his squad had early start times in its first two preliminary games. Switzerland played the early game on Tuesday, beating Bealrus 3-2 in a shootout. That came after 60 minutes of play in regulation and 10 minutes of overtime. So it’s a quick turnaround for the Swiss, trying to pull off a big upset of their own.
Team USA strategy should be simple: Use their speed and youth to wear down the Swiss. Back-to-back games in a single elimination tournament can be killer. No time for practice and no time to catch your breath. The U.S. team has been off since Sunday, so it should be ready. Jonas Hiller has been very good so far for Switzerland, but this is the time when the workload and the close games should start to catch up with him -- that is, if the U.S team attacks, which it should be able to do more than it did against Canada.
A win and the U.S. will automatically play for a medal, no matter what happens in the next round. A loss, and the first three wins, especially the one over Canada, will have little meaning.
Prediction: It will be close early. Maybe the Americans trail at some point but by the third period Ryan Miller will do his thing and the offense will provide enough. The U.S. wins 5-2 and heads on to the semifinals.