The much-anticipated men's Olympic hockey tournament, the first played on NHL-size ice, opened with a bang Tuesday. Actually, it opened with more than a few bangs, as the U.S. beat Switzerland, 3-1, in a fast and consistently physical game at Canada Hockey Place.
The Ducks' Bobby Ryan, St. Louis' David Backes and Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone scored for the U.S., which is 7-1 against Switzerland in Olympic play stretching back to 1920. U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 14 shots by the Swiss, whose roster includes two NHL regulars and a handful of others with limited or distant NHL experience.
Switzerland scored its only goal at 9:45 of the final period, setting off a flurry of cowbell-ringing in the stands when Roman Wick prodded the puck home after Hnat Domenichelli's centering pass bounced off Miller's leg.
In the first of many such moments bound to happen here, Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller gave up a first-period goal to an NHL teammate, Ryan. While Ryan might have benefited from knowing Hiller's tendencies, Backes' goal was born of pure skill, as he made a spectacular end-to-end rush. The third U.S. goal stemmed from good net-front presence and opportunism by Malone.
Previous Olympic tournaments had been played on international-size rinks, which are 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. The rink at Canada Hockey Place, home of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, is 200 feet long but only 85 feet wide. The dimensions were left unchanged for the Games, and the U.S. team, which is composed entirely of NHL players, made itself at home.
In addition to Hiller, who won the Ducks' No. 1 goaltending job this season, Switzerland has another NHL regular in New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit. A few other Swiss players have appeared in the NHL this season: Yannick Weber has played for Montreal, and defenseman Luca Sbisa started the season with the Ducks before being sent back to junior hockey.
Most of the other Swiss players play in their domestic league or elsewhere in Europe, so the adjustment to the smaller rink might have been a problem for them. But the young U.S. team was simply better in just about every area, making the size of the rink only a small factor.
Ryan gave the U.S. the lead late in the first period. He took a hard hit along the left-wing boards but passed the puck to Brooks Orpik for a shot. The puck didn't get through, and it was bobbled by the Swiss defense. Ryan swooped in for a long wrist shot that beat Hiller to the glove side.
Backes' goal was memorable. Miller had stopped a shot by Swiss forward Ivo Ruthemann; Backes collected the puck and made a quick transition up ice. He went up the left side and then cut toward the middle as he got close to Hiller, easily eluding Weber and scoring from point-blank range at 5:52.
The U.S. increased its lead to 3-0 at 8:25 of the second period, during a power play. Ryan Suter — son of 1980 U.S. gold medalist Bob Suter and a standout in his own right with the Nashville Predators — took a shot from the blue line that ended up in the slot, where Malone poked it home.
Malone also has hockey bloodlines, though not Olympian. His father, Greg, played for the Penguins, and he was born in Pittsburgh and started his NHL career there.
The U.S. next plays Norway on Thursday.