Published January 08, 2015
The U.S. kids were all right.
The youngest collection of American hockey players since the NHL began supplying the talent for the 1998 Nagano Games opened this tournament with a workmanlike 3-1 victory over Switzerland on Tuesday.
Bobby Ryan scored late in the first period, and David Backes and Ryan Malone added goals in the second to help the United States avoid a repeat of an opening-game letdown. During the 2006 Turin Games, the Americans began with a 3-3 tie against Latvia and never challenged for a medal.
Ryan Miller, considered the key to the U.S. chances to reach the podium, was solid in making 14 saves. He turned aside the handful of scoring opportunities the Swiss created and complied with rules barring corporate sponsorships by placing tape over the words "Miller Time" painted on his mask.
His only blemish came with 10:15 remaining when a pass attempt by Roman Wick struck the goalie's outstretched stick and tantalizingly trickled behind him for a power-play goal.
With only goalie Jonas Hiller and defenseman Mark Streit as regular NHL players, Switzerland put up some early resistance but couldn't sustain it. Hiller stopped 21 shots, facing only two in the third period.
In the appetizer before host Canada faced Norway, the Americans looked crisp and coasted to victory after a fast-paced start. Outside of a few missed connections on some passes, there was no clear evidence the Americans had only one practice before play began.
Many fans were decked out in red Canada jerseys, but there was plenty of support for the U.S. and Swiss teams. The biggest cheers were reserved for American forward Ryan Kesler of the hometown Vancouver Canucks, and Mike Eruzione, who captained the U.S. to Miracle on Ice glory in 1980.
Just when it seemed Switzerland might get even at 1, Miller fought off a bouncing puck between his pads and got a rush started the other way. Backes streaked down the left side, cut inside of defenseman Yannick Weber, and used a backhand-to-forehand shift to beat Hiller at 5:52 of the second.
The Americans needed only 2:08 more to make it 3-0 as Malone found a rebound of Ryan Suter's shot and slipped it between Hiller's pads for a power-play goal.
Ryan helped set up his goal by digging the puck free during a scrum along the left-wing boards. He then darted to the middle of the ice and was in position when a loose puck bounced to him for a rising drive that eluded Hiller's glove with 1:01 left in the first.
Ryan, best known for being the player chosen No. 2 behind Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL draft, shook off the effects of a hit from behind by Streit in the deep right corner of the Swiss zone earlier in the first. Ryan was still muttering about the crunching blow after taking a seat on the bench.
The physical nature was evident early in the opener of a tournament being held on an NHL-sized rink as opposed to the wider surfaces traditionally used in the Olympics. Both teams traded hits that pleased the crowd used to watching Vancouver Canucks home games in this arena.
The U.S. wasn't penalized until Joe Pavelski was sent off for hooking at 4:49 of the third. A roughing call against Suter set up Wick's goal.
Despite the lack of NHL talent and household names outside of Switzerland, the Swiss club is considered dangerous -- largely because of Hiller, who made Stanley Cup-winning goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere expendable in Anaheim.
Four years ago at the Turin Games, Switzerland earned surprising victories over Canada and the Czech Republic and could pose an upset threat this time in longtime coach Ralph Krueger's last year at the helm of the national team.