VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Do you believe in good old-fashioned teamwork and patience? The unheralded U.S. Olympic men's hockey team relied on both to finally break Switzerland and dogged goalie Jonas Hiller for a 2-0 quarterfinal win that came down to the final period.
Team USA advanced to Friday's semifinal, much to the dismay of all the fans in red at Canada Hockey Place — the Swiss fans and the Canadians, who have been rooting hard against the Americans since their improbable win over Canada in the first round.
Canadians hold grudges when it comes to hockey, which is why they are still booing U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson four years after he elbowed a Canadian player at the world junior championships in this city.
The crowd got louder as the game wore on. Fans went wild at every Swiss breakaway, cheered when U.S. shots were deflected, and danced to the eclectic selection of music, which included Michael Jackson hits, Hava Nagila and John Denver's Thank God I'm a Country Boy.
Left wing Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils scored both goals for the United States. The game-winner came on a power play at 2:08 after a penalty was called on Switzerland's Philippe Furrer.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, the leading U.S. scorer thus far, took a shot and Parise deflected it high. Hiller tried to clear the puck, but mishandled it, and it trickled in to his right.
Hiller earns a living with the Anaheim Ducks and is one of two NHL players on the Swiss team. He was initially hired by U.S. general manager Brian Burke, so the U.S. team was quite familiar with him.
He proved to be the equalizing factor against the more talented and experienced Americans. A classic car aficionado, Hiller loves to take apart engines and is equally handy minding the net. He stopped 45 of 47 shots against Canada in a 3-2 shootout loss, and on Tuesday he saved 42.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy against a goalie like that," said Parise, a 25-year-old from Prior Lake, Minn. "We knew it was probably going to be an ugly goal that would change the game.
"In the dressing room during the second intermission, we told each other to do the same thing, don't force anything, play smart. I, personally, was more patient with the puck, had more energy, and got more shots on goal than I had in the first few games."
Hiller blamed the first goal on a bad bounce.
"Me and one of our defensemen were trying to clear it, but we interfered with each other," he said. "It was tough to see the puck go in. We wanted to play a solid game and keep it open as long as possible. We were close, but not close enough. It's tough to lose 1 or 2 to nothing. Sometimes, 5-0 is easier to swallow."
Parise's second goal was an empty netter with 11 seconds to play. They were the first goals for Parise in this tournament.
"For us, the whole tournament has been a collective effort, different guys scoring, and tonight happened to be me," he said. "I was more patient with the puck Tuesday, had more energy, and got more shots on goal."
The United States dominated play the first two periods, with 32 shots on goal compared to eight for the Swiss.
NAILING THE COFFIN SHUT
"Elimination games are the hardest thing to do, to nail that coffin shut," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said.
"They got great goaltending from Jonas, as we expected. I had predicted to our team this was going to be a one-goal game. I was perfectly content with the way were playing after two periods because we were controlling the action. I'm proud we played our best game."
Assistant U.S. captain Ryan Suter said the key to the win was maturity and patience.
"We knew they were gonna come at us, but we matched their intensity, battled it out and hung around," he said. "We could have easily folded the tents and said, 'Oh, the goalie is good, we're not going to get one.' But we hung with it and that says a lot about our team."
The U.S., which improved to 4-0-0 in these Olympics, plays the winner of the Finland-Czech Republic game in Friday's semifinal.