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THN at the Olympics: Swiss lack skill, but not swagger heading into U.S. matchup

VANCOUVER – Swiss coach Ralph Krueger has no idea whether his team can defeat USA in the quarterfinal of the Olympic tournament, but his team goes into the game without the fear of failure and without the burden of expectations.

And it goes into Wednesday’s game with something of a swagger. That’s because the Swiss have pretty much been the Swiss in this tournament. They’re perpetually on the periphery of the hockey powers, but they’ll definitely give you a game and are capable of beating any country on a given day. They ride their goaltending as far as it will take them and with Jonas Hiller in the nets, they know anything is possible.

“(The Americans) are going to be very prepared, they’re rested and they respect us, and those factors make it difficult to surprise,” Krueger said after his team defeated Belarus 3-2 in a shootout to advance to the quarterfinal. “Dealing with the teams we’re supposed to beat takes a lot of energy, but now we can just open up like a flower and play and enjoy it. All the pressure goes to USA. They’re in first place and it’s going to be nationally televised. We have nothing but things to gain from the game.”

Even though he turned in something of an uneven effort in the qualifying game, Hiller has emerged as one of the prime difference-makers and one of the best goalies in the tournament, but USA’s Ryan Miller has been even better. The Swiss gained an enormous amount of confidence from their 3-1 loss to USA in the opener and their 3-2 shootout loss to Canada because they know they can play with a team stocked with NHL talent.

But there’s no doubt almost all of the Swiss fortunes rest on Hiller. The Swiss were remarking after the Belarus game that they’re perfectly comfortable playing without the puck against superior competition. Having that kind of philosophy leaves very little margin for error when it comes to goaltending.

“We’re very good without the puck, but the reason why we don’t have more players in the NHL is that what we do with the puck is still not at a world-class level,” Krueger said. “We’re continuing to work on that, but it’s very simple. Without the puck, these guys play at a world-class level and we’ve got the speed that matches anybody, but it’s really difficult when we have space and time – and you saw it against Norway and Belarus – we don’t do that well with it. Even Belarus is much more skilled than we are with the puck. It was our team game that beat them.”

The hockey world continues to wait for the Swiss to break through as a hockey power, but that won’t come until the development of their skaters catches up with their goalies. And that won’t happen unless more skaters make the decision to play in the NHL and are willing to pay that price rather than staying at home and making a lucrative living in the Swiss League. Most players can make much more money staying at home than slugging away for a few years in the minors, but it doesn’t get them any closer to playing in the NHL.

“I just think not as many have made that decision, but it’s coming,” Krueger said.  “Look at Luca Sbisa in this tournament. He’s completely ready for the NHL and he was born in 1990. Mark (Streit) was the first and he broke down the barrier and I think other players have shown they can play in North America.”

Ken Campbell is in Vancouver covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for THN.com. Read his other reports HERE.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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