Rugged 'fourth line' sets the pace for USA's opener, Olympic battle
VANCOUVER -- The motto of the host country is
After a swell save by goalie
Certainly he bleeds like a Tarantino character. After the game, as he described his second-period goal in the 3-1 Team USA victory over Switzerland in the Olympic tournament opener, there still was a wad of gauze crammed up his left nostril. Backes is from
"This was one of those times when the goalie makes a great save and the puck bounces out and I've got some momentum," Backes said, warming to his play. "You have a few (Swiss) guys trapped, so I'm trying to use my big butt and get around the corner there."
Backes indeed made the corner and then rambled for daylight, carrying the puck on his backhand, until he had a fleeting encounter with a Swiss pylon called
The goal was precisely the kind of wizardry Team USA was expecting from its small and swift forwards, not one of the fourth-line monsters expected to do the heavy lifting.
While it is difficult to measure the import of the opening victory over a moderately dangerous hockey country -- Switzerland 2, Canada 0 in Turin 2006 -- you can measure this: The three American scorers averaged 6'3" and 218, roughly the size of NFL strong safeties. This was not glitz. This was Team USA GM
Maybe it is unfair to tag Backes, Ryan and
"When (our team) got away from (its game) a little bit in the third, (Wilson) told us that he needed some crashing and some banging, and we're certainly happy to oblige," Ryan said. "I think that shift we spent a little bit of time in their zone."
The rapport was instantaneous among linemates, partly because theirs was a Chemistry 101 experiment and nothing that needed a post-grad education. The trio talked in the dressing room prior to the game and agreed they would play a dangle-free game rooted in physicality and hard work. Unlike the glamorous and ineffective first line of center
Cleary more demanding tests await this young team. But Switzerland was an ideal opponent to begin a medal quest against. Unlike a cupcake such as Norway, the Swiss presented challenges in a solid goalie, a dollop of skill and the willingness to force the play. Switzerland invented neutrality, but that didn't mean it had to play a neutral zone trap. Indeed, the Swiss were sending two forecheckers deep in the furious first period, checking with surprising zeal. On the international-sized ice, Switzerland might have gone with a yawn-inducing 1-4 trap and waited for turnovers and counter attacks. But on a 200-x-85-foot NHL rink, they played the Americans like they meant to win, not merely survive.
For Team USA, this was a solid start. The secondary scoring already is in place.
Now, if it gets some primary scoring in time for the highly anticipated showdown Sunday against the Canadians, it might be on to something.