U.S. must be wary of Swiss, neutral zone 

February, 16, 2010

VANCOUVER -- The day before the start of this Olympic hockey tournament is a big yawn. The players and coaches have been scrambling from all points in North America to get to Vancouver in time for a short practice, a few meetings and a good night sleep.

Team USA goalie Tim Thomas, for example, didn't arrive in Vancouver until well after midnight after some mechanical problems on a flight connecting through Toronto. "Better safe than sorry," Thomas said. During the Americans' media availability, Thomas looked like a guy who had a date with a pillow.

U.S. assistant coaches John Tortorella (who'll handle the team's power play) and Scott Gordon (in charge of the penalty kill) were two others who arrived late Sunday/early Monday. Like everyone else, they were trying to get their legs under them. The Americans don't have much time to do that. They open the tournament with a noon (Pacific Time) tilt against Switzerland.

The Swiss, who finished sixth, ahead of both the Americans and Canadians, at the 2006 Games, could be a pesky opponent. They figure to play a very defensive-minded game, clogging up the middle of the ice, in the hopes of frustrating an American-team full of NHLers. Canadian-born Swiss head coach Ralph Krueger has been working with his team for a few weeks. That's an advantage. And Krueger is very familiar with his players. That's another advantage.

In a preliminary round pool with Canada, Team USA can ill afford an opening-game loss to the Swiss. That would put them on a much tougher road to a medal. And, in a short tournament, when winning and losing tend to snowball, the opening game loss could prove crippling.

To read comments from U.S. coach Ron Wilson on the situation in the American crease and which country may benefit from the use of international rules, you must be an ESPN Insider.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.