Golden inheritance: U.S. wins its hockey opener

Phil Kessel (81) and Joe Pavelski ( 16) of the United States celebrate Ryan Malone's power-play goal, which put the Americans up, 3-0, over Switzerland. The United States won the opening-round game, 3-1.
Phil Kessel (81) and Joe Pavelski ( 16) of the United States celebrate Ryan Malone's power-play goal, which put the Americans up, 3-0, over Switzerland. The United States won the opening-round game, 3-1.
Posted: February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER - When Ryan Suter was growing up in Madison, Wis., he confronted a problem that kids across America face daily:

What to bring to school for Show and Tell.

Being a hockey player in a hockey family, he decided on his father Bob's "Miracle on Ice" gold medal. He just as easily could have brought in another from the family's Olympic hockey medal collection, one of the silvers won by Uncle Gary in the 2002 Games or by great-uncle Ken Yackel in 1952.

There was, however, one problem with young Ryan's choice. He forgot to bring the medal home again. Fortunately, his father, who was so nonchalant about the priceless award that he sometimes left it atop the refrigerator, wasn't likely to notice right away.

"I left it in my locker," Suter recalled. "Luckily, when I went back in the next day, it was still there. No one ever knew."

A lot has changed since Suter's father played defense on that historic team that upset the feared Soviets at Lake Placid. If these Americans, who began play in these 2010 Winter Olympics yesterday with a tougher-than-expected 3-1 win over the Swiss, are going to add to the Suters' hardware, it wouldn't be a Miracle on Ice.

A Very Surprising Moment on Ice, perhaps, since the Canadians and Russians are heavy favorites, but no 1980 miracle proportions.

"Things are totally different now for American hockey," said Suter, 25, a Nashville Predators defenseman. "Just look at this team."

What you see is a young and swift team, one with just three Olympic veterans, one that hardly anyone believes can contend for a gold in a tournament that features Sidney Crosby's home-buoyed Canadians and Alex Ovechkin's powerful Russians.

"Whatever everyone wants to talk about is fine with us," said forward Dustin Brown of the L.A. Kings. "We know what we're here to do. If we have to go under the radar to do it, that's fine with us."

That's been the theme here for these Americans, who rarely miss an opportunity to point out how the Canadians must be feeling enormous pressure, playing their game in their nation.

It's a philosophy likely developed by their coach, who knows how excessive expectations can weigh a team down. Ron Wilson guided the 1998 U.S. team that, despite being the greatest collection of American NHL talent ever, left Japan with nothing but a reputation as room-trashers.

"In '98, everybody was predicting that we were going to win the gold medal," Wilson recalled after his current squad matched that '98 team's win total in its opener. "We found out in a hurry that it's tough to capture lightning in a bottle. I think we'll be a little more relaxed here."

That wasn't how they appeared throughout most of the first period against Switzerland, which played bigger and tougher than the Americans anticipated.

"They were surprisingly physical," said David Backes, a left winger for the St. Louis Blues. "They were big, strong guys who could skate very well, and I think it surprised us how hard they were hitting. It took us a second to get our feet under us."

Actually, they didn't appear to find those feet until there was 1 minute, 1 second left in the opening period. That's when Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan turned a puck and a game around.

Ryan worked the puck loose along the boards. By the time he reached the blue line, a Swiss clearing pass had bounded off a glove and landed at his feet.

The Anaheim Ducks center swiped it past Jonas Hiller and the suddenly relaxed Americans had a 1-0 lead.

"I think that helped get us going," Ryan said.

It also created an unexpected explosion in sold-out Canada Hockey Place, where there were as many Americans as Canadians for the tournament opener.

"I thought for sure we were getting booed today," Ryan said. "I came out expecting that. But I think the fans were just excited to get things under way. When we play Canada, I'm sure it will be a different story."

Goals by Backes and Ryan Malone in the second let the United States take a 3-0 lead into the final period. Switzerland's goal came with 10:05 to play when Roman Wick got a squiggler past goalie Ryan Miller.

Before the game, Miller was told he had to remove two messages from his helmet - "Miller Time" and "Matt Man," the latter a tribute to a cousin who had died of cancer. Teammate Jonathan Quick also had to remove "Support the Troops" from his.

According to Szymon Szemberg, an International Ice Hockey Federation spokesman, the messages violated an International Olympic Committee rule that prohibits "advertising, demonstrations, and propaganda".

Bob Condron, a U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman, said the USOC would raise the matter in a meeting last night with USA Hockey.

In the meantime, Suter took the first step toward earning a medal of his own. And if he gets it, he said, he'd probably treat it better than his father did his.

"I take pride in it, definitely," Bob Suter said. "[But] you keep it locked up, what good is it really? People know I have it. I'd loan it out, too. After our kids would take it for a while, cousins or somebody else wanted to take it to a school. . . . I'd let them. I never really had it in a safe hidden or anything. I still don't."

Tollefsen out. Defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen missed Norway's Olympic hockey opener against Canada last night because of a family illness. The Flyers traded Tollefsen to Detroit on Feb. 6.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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