The U.S. Men’s National Team takes on Switzerland in its second of seven preliminary round games at the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship at Minsk Arena in Minsk, Belarus. Today's game will be televised live on NBC Sports Network with coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET.
By Brian Pinelli
MINSK, Belarus - Team USA seeks to ride the momentum from Friday night’s tournament opening victory against Belarus into Saturday evening’s contest versus Switzerland, the 2013 world championship silver medalist.
The U.S. thrived on balanced offense – 11 different players tallied a point – and Tim Thomas was sharp in net, but the cohesive Swiss should pose a greater threat than the tournament hosts.
Switzerland dropped its opening match to Russia 5-0 and is surely motivated to have a strong tournament, especially considering it will be the last for national team head coach Sean Simpson.
On Friday night, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba led the Red, White and Blue in scoring - finding the back of the net twice off rocket blasts from the top of the circle - shots-on-goal with six and ice time, logging 22:32.
Trouba was a member of last year’s U.S. team that was eliminated by the overachieving Swiss in the semifinals, 3-0, at the 2013 world championship in Stockholm.
“We watched some video on them and we know they are a good team; we figured that out last year and it should be another good test for us,” Trouba said.
Team USA assistant coach Don Granato has done much of the advance scouting on Switzerland, advising of their highly discipline and regimented style of play.
“You saw last night they were down in the game, but they don’t break or lose confidence,” Granato said, referring to the shutout loss to Russia. “They know their identity very well.”
Granato added: “You’re not going to see great highs or lows out of them and they’re very consistent up and down the rink.
“I would say as a team they want to attack with speed, their D are very active on the rush, and in transition guys like (Roman) Josi will stand out, but they have three or four guys who are engaged to join the rush.”
Despite the scouting report on their opponent, Granato advised that the primary focus is still on Team USA’s own game.
“We lay out what our opponent is and their identity, but we still have to execute our system at the end of the day,” Granato said. “For us, it’s the second game of the tournament and guys are still getting used to their linemates and the system of our team. The focus will still be on executing what our coaches have laid out for our team.”
The ever-improving Swiss enter the 2014 tournament ranked seventh in the IIHF world ranking, only one place behind the United States.
U.S. forward Peter Mueller knows a thing or two about the culture and rise to prominence of Swiss hockey, having played the past season with Kloten, near Zurich, in the Swiss League.
“They do take hockey very seriously over there; I think over the last 10 years Switzerland hockey has really been put on the map and has definitely made a place on their national stage,” Mueller said. “When they won silver (at last year’s world championship), it was a very big deal in Switzerland.”
And regarding the Swiss squad that the U.S. will face tonight?
“They’re not an overly physical team, but they make up for it with the shifty play and quickness that they have,” said the 25-year-old, Bloomington, Minn. native. “They have a few NHL players that boost their morale and they also have guys from the Swiss league that can play.
“We’re going to be expecting a very fast paced game tonight,” Mueller said. “They’re coming off a loss against Russia and they’re probably going to be biting at the bit to get going against us.
“It’s going to be a good battle.”
Team USA is 14-0-1-7-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) against the Swiss in the IIHF Men’s World Championship. Last year, Switzerland defeated the U.S., 3-0, in the semifinals.
HELSINKI, Finland -- In anticipation of tomorrow’s quarterfinal against host Finland (11:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network in U.S.), Team USA exuded calm and confidence while speaking to the media following Wednesday’s practice at Hartwall Arena.
It is evident that the youthful group, with an average age of just over 25, has relished its recent time spent together, bonding and quickly developing chemistry on the ice here in Finland.
“A lot of us have known each other for a long time, whether it’s playing with or against each other, so it’s been fun to get together in a tournament like this,” said U.S. captain Jack Johnson, who is playing in the world championship for the fifth time. “It kind of reminds me of the 2010 Olympic Team where no one expected us to do anything there, and everyone was willing to do whatever it took to win. We’re a real similar team.”
Defenseman Cam Fowler, who scored his first goal of the tournament on a slick give-and-go with Paul Stastny in last night’s 5-2 victory over Switzerland, echoed similar sentiments.
"It’s tough to kind of mold together when you only have a week of practice,” said Fowler. “I think at the world juniors and here, we’ve done a great job of doing that. I think it’s just the personalities of the guys we have and coming forward toward the same goal. Now we know what we have to do moving forward.”
Along with a third period tally by Chris Butler, Fowler and Butler became the 16th and 17th U.S. players to score a goal at the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
“Our game plan is really bringing everyone into the offense, whether it be different lines or the defense,” said Max Pacioretty, who with 12 points (2-10) in seven games leads Team USA. “We try to include all five players in the offensive zone and that’s how we put pucks in the net.”
“It’s tough to rely solely on one line or a couple of players,” said Johnson. “Fortunately for us, that’s not the case right now. Nobody cares who gets the credit and when you have a group of guys like this it’s a special thing.”
“Our defense has a lot to do with that, jumping in all the time and helping out us forwards,” said Stastny, about the team’s balanced scoring. “All the guys are clicking and we are successful when all four lines have good puck possession down low.”
Justin Faulk, the youngest player on the squad at 20-years old, has been an offensive force on the blue line, displaying poise and maturity. The young talent is tied for third among all defensemen in the tournament with seven points (4-3).
“Everyone is playing well together, finding each other and no one is being too selfish out there,” said the Carolina Hurricane defenseman. “Our defense has been chipping in and jumping into the rush and that’s been huge for us.”
Under Head Coach Scott Gordon, the U.S. concluded the preliminary round at 6-1, marking only the second time in history (1939), Team USA has won six of its first seven games in the world championship.
Starting in goal for the Finns Thursday will be Petri Vehanen. Dallas Star Kari Lehtonen suffered a lower body injury in the latter half of the third period in Sunday’s game against the U.S. and did not practice Wednesday.
“It doesn’t matter who they play in goal,” said Stastny, who had three goals and nine assists in the preliminary round. “Every goalie is good at this point. Plain and simple, you have to get in front of them, make them move and get second chances.”
With high expectations playing in front of the home crowd in what is a hockey-crazed nation, the pressure will surely be on the defending World Champion Finns come Thursday.
“Obviously, they’re probably feeling the pressure being their home tournament, but I don’t think its any real advantage in a one-game knockout where anything can happen,” said Johnson.
“We know we’re playing a completely different game and you can throw away the last one,” said Pacioretty. “They’re going to come out a lot hungrier and it’s going to be a battle. It will be a crazy barn to play in.”
For Team USA, expectations have grown as they’ve steadily progressed as a unit in Helsinki. The last American medal at a World Championship came in 2004, when they claimed bronze in Prague, Czech Republic, and it’s been 52 years since the U.S. has captured a world title.
“This team has the potential to do great in this tournament,” said Johnson. “We’re just here to have fun and we’re here to win it.”
“We know USA hasn’t done too well at the world championships and if we do well here the sport will continue growing in the U.S.,” added Stastny. “We’re here for a reason – we’re here to win. Tomorrow is such a big game for us and that’s why we’re so excited.”