Wednesday, February 24, 2010

USA Hockey Gains Berth in Semis

The march continues for the US Olympic hockey team after its 2-0 win over Switzerland on Wednesday, assuring the team of a berth in the Vancouver Games' semifinals.

Zach Parise (U. of North Dakota, New Jersey Devils) scored just over two minutes into the third period to finally solve Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks) and give the Yanks a lead they would not relinquish.  Parise scored the game's other goal into an empty net with 12 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Ryan Miller (Michigan State, Buffalo Sabres) wasn't particularly busy, but did turn aside all 19 Swiss shots to record the shutout. Team USA improves to 4-0 in Olympic play.

I had written earlier in the day that the Swiss would prove a formidable challenge for Team USA and Wednesday proved that. Hiller stood on his head throughout, beaten only once in 43 attempts. The US dominated play but could not solve a hot goaltender until the third period. In a single-elimination format, hot goaltenders can wreak havoc on teams with superior talent. For a good example of this, look no further than Miller's performance against Canada last Sunday night. Reaching further back into history, Jim Craig stood on his head against the Soviets in 1980 and we've been talking about the Miracle on Ice for 30 years now. Still, the US won the game despite it being way too close for comfort (copyright, Ted Knight) for many of the US faithful. It wasn't nearly as sexy as beating Canada, but the Americans did what they needed to do to stay alive.

Next up for the US is a date with the winner of Wednesday night's tilt between Finland and the Czech Republic. The winner will face the USA on Friday afternoon in Vancouver. (Thursday Morning Update: Finland beat the Czechs 2-0 and will face the US on Friday; Canada crushed Russia and Slovakia knocked out Sweden Wednesday night, meaning the final four contains the US, Canada, Finland, and Slovakia). The US needs one more victory to gain a medal. Just what color that medal will be remains to be seen.

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