Share this article

print logo

Swiss team chemistry blows away Canada

TURIN, Italy -- It was difficult to discern who was more shocked as they skated off the ice and began the long march toward the dressing room Saturday -- the team that supposedly couldn't be beaten or the one that actually won.

Woe, Canada.

Our friends across the border had a good time Friday laughing about the U.S. women's team getting bounced in the semifinals only to watch their beloved heroes and seemingly unbeatable men's team get drilled, 2-0, Saturday by a bunch of no-names from Switzerland.

You think Team Suisse believes in miracles? Yes.

It was the upset of the Olympics. Switzerland, after getting buried by Finland in the opener, has its act together while conducting a clinic in team chemistry. It's getting a jump on teams stacked with NHL All-Stars. In its infinite wisdom, the NHL figured its players would simply roll into Italy and take over the Winter Games the way they did four years ago in Salt Lake City.

Didn't we learn anything from the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which trained for months en route to the Miracle on Ice? Even NHL players can't be expected to produce the best hockey in the world when teams are jumbled together in about 15 minutes and flown across six time zones.

"Talent is only a part of this whole thing," said Canada coach Pat Quinn, who coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We tried to rely on talent tonight, and it wasn't enough. If we don't learn that, we'll be going home early."

Hockey Canada might have some company. Team USA played its best game in this tournament Saturday and still lost to Slovakia, 2-1, in Torino Esposizioni. Old buddy Miroslav Satan won a battle in the corner against old defenseman Chris Chelios, setting up Peter Bondra for the winner in the third period.

It was hardly an upset. Slovakia was ranked fourth, the Yanks seventh, by the International Ice Hockey Federation going into the tournament. Canada was first, Switzerland eighth.

Team USA (1-1-1) is two points ahead of Latvia (0-2-1) in the preliminary round, so to guarantee a spot in the medal round the Yanks need a win and a tie in their next two games against a strong Sweden team today and Russia on Tuesday to reach the medal round.

Latvia would need two American losses, which is possible, plus a win and a tie against Russia and winless Kazakhstan. So that jet-lagging 3-3 tie with Latvia in the opener, which felt like a loss, could become critical.

"The more time you get to prepare as a team, the better your chances are," Sabres co-captain and U.S. forward Chris Drury said. "These countries that aren't traditional hockey powers are getting better and better. The bar is being raised, and they're reaching for it. [Today] is a huge game. We know that Latvia tie didn't help us. Everyone knows where we're at and what we have to do."

If the Yanks reach the medal round, who knows what can happen?

Switzerland has proved it's no fluke. It has beaten the Czech Republic and Canada in consecutive games. It's a good team, one that appears to be gaining momentum. The Swiss beat Canada because they played better together after playing together longer. The 4,769 fans screaming "La Suisse" were stunned.

Canada was floored.

Its great players hardly equated to a great team Saturday. The Canadians are still favored to win the gold medal, but Saturday's game confirmed they're vulnerable. Switzerland molded at the right time, had good goaltending and a few breaks. Martin Gerber made 49 saves, including 24 in the third period while holding a two-goal lead.

"They're kind of in your face," Canada defenseman Chris Pronger said. "They're always standing up and limiting your time and space. They're a hard team to play against. At times, we got a little too cute. They started getting momentum from that."

Imagine, Switzerland in Canada's face.

Switzerland's roster isn't exactly loaded with world-class skill. Gerber has been solid in Carolina this season and was terrific Saturday, but he probably wouldn't have even made the Canadian team. Backup David Aebischer, who beat the Czechs, has been trade bait all season in Colorado.

Defenseman Mark Streit is a part-timer for the Montreal Canadiens. Forward Paul Di Pietro grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and won the Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1993. He wasn't good enough to stay in the NHL and bolted for Switzerland eight years ago. The 35-year-old scored both goals Saturday.

The roster includes forgettable players such as forwards Flavien Conne and Severin Blindenbacher and defenseman Goran Bezina. They didn't ride back to the Olympic Village after the game. They flew. Aebischer literally skipped to the dressing room in his equipment. The win was one of the greatest moments in Swiss sports history.

"Anything is possible," Di Pietro said. "It all happened so fast. I was at the village today playing cards, and now I'm here talking to you guys. It's strange. It's great to compete against the best in the world at anything. Tonight, we competed very well. When we work like that, it's team togetherness."

Or simply Team Together.

The superpowers have noticed. Every time the Swiss opened the door Saturday, Canada locked itself in and swallowed the key. The Canadians took too many senseless penalties, made too many bad passes, skated in different directions, played poor hockey.

Switzerland gave up 49 shots but ultimately won the game with defense and goaltending. It's something it learned last year during the lockout, when players from across the NHL joined the Swiss league and showed them how it was done. On Saturday, the Swiss showed a team touted as the best in the world how it was done:



There are no comments - be the first to comment