VANCOUVER — So much for a lack of Olympic experience. After a workmanlike win over Switzerland in the opener, the U.S. men's hockey team is loaded with it.
Bobby Ryan scored late in the first period, and David Backes and Ryan Malone added goals in the second to help the youngest collection of American hockey players since the NHL began supplying talent for the 1998 Nagano Games top Switzerland 3-1 yesterday.
This group of Americans has an average age just above 26.
“I'm sure some of these guys were nervous,” U.S. general manager Brian Burke said. “This is the big stage. This is Broadway.”
The roster boasts three players who have been previous Olympians. After a slow start through a chess-match opening period, the Americans turned talent and physical play in their favor.
That and a three-goal lead helped the jitters go away.
“Once I scored, I was able to settle down and come back into my own a little bit,” the 22-year-old Ryan said. “You definitely don't want to come from behind early. To get the lead, I think it settled the game down quite a bit for us.”
The United States avoided a repeat of an opening-game letdown. During the 2006 Turin Games, the Americans began with a 3-3 tie against Latvia.
Ryan Miller, considered the key to the U.S. chances to reach the podium, made 14 saves.
His only blemish came with 10:15 remaining when a pass attempt by Roman Wick struck the goalie's outstretched stick and trickled behind him for a power-play goal.
“The boys did a good job in a tight first period,” Miller said. “Both teams were feeling it out. We created really well in the second.”
With only goalie Jonas Hiller and defenseman Mark Streit as regular NHL players, Switzerland put up some early resistance but couldn't sustain it. Hiller, Ryan's teammate on the Anaheim Ducks, stopped 21 shots. He faced only two in the third period.
Outside of a few missed connections on some passes, there was no clear evidence they had only one practice before yesterday.
The biggest cheers were reserved for American forward Ryan Kesler of the hometown Canucks, and Mike Eruzione, who captained the United States to Miracle on Ice glory in 1980.
Just when it seemed Switzerland might get even at 1, Miller fought off a bouncing puck between his pads and got a rush started the other way. Backes streaked down the left side, cut inside of defenseman Yannick Weber, and used a backhand-to-forehand shift to beat Hiller at 5:52 of the second.
The Americans needed only 2:08 more to make it 3-0 as Malone found a rebound of Ryan Suter's shot and slipped it between Hiller's pads for a power-play goal.
“I thought we might have a chance, but in the end, we just weren't solid enough,” Hiller said.
With this tournament held on an NHL-sized rink as opposed to the traditionally wider Olympic surfaces, U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner hit Streit twice during the game's first shift.
“They have speed and they play physical, but I felt we played physical,” Streit said.
Four years ago, Switzerland earned surprising victories over Canada and the Czech Republic and could pose an upset threat.
The United States will play Norway tomorrow, and Switzerland will again face Canada.