How the hell do you stay mad at the Swiss? It's a country (in)famous for its neutrality, where even French, German and Italian populations can live together in peace and harmony (if by "together" you mean in separate pockets of the landlocked territory, separated by huge mountain ranges). It's a nation known for chocolate and cleanliness, precision timepieces and shady bankers. Its top athletes excel in the non-violent sport of tennis or the self-violent sport of alpine skiing. Its flag is a red cross for goodness sake. What's not to like?
Their hockey team, that's what not to like. For way too many years La Suisse has applied their famous neutrality in a great big old trap, and tried to non-participate their way to a 0-0 tie. What's worse is that occasionally their stultifying game plan actually works, as it did four years ago today when the Swiss stuck their big old pin into Canada's balloon and pricked us good. 2-0, in the Olympic F. Games. A 49-save shutout by a nonedescript NHL goalie who for a day proved as impenetrable as the Swiss Alps, and two goals from a transplanted (a.k.a. "turncoat") Canadian who was long in the tooth and never was much of a player when his teeth were short.
For an entire leap cycle,1461 long days, I have successfully contained my anger at this injustice, but today it has suddenly come to life like a dormant cicada. Who the hell do they think they are, trying to beat Canada at our game? Do we try to beat them in the alpine super combined? Successfully??
The names have (largely) changed, but the stories are still the same. Today another nondescript NHL goalie, Jonas Hiller, hopes for a miracle, while another never-really-was named Hnat "Spell Check" Domenichelli turns his coat against the country he represented so many times in the Spengler Cup. His is an interesting career which I might appreciate on a different day. Not this one, though. Destroy Domenichelli! To hell with Hiller!! Stomp the Swiss!!!
Somewhat more, uh, neutral analysis after the jump ...
Canada ices 5 skaters who failed to score on Martin Gerber in Torino, namely Chris F. Pronger, Dany F. Heatley -- I knew there was a reason I hate these guys -- Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, and Rick Nash. I could hardly pick 5 guys I'd rather have really motivated to take the game to the Swiss and light the lamp a few times today.
Of particular interest will be the chance at redemption offered the losing goalie of that affair. Martin Brodeur enters the Olympics in Game 2, just as he did in Salt Lake City, and once again looks to run the table. Home town favourite Roberto Luongo staked his claim to the #1 job with a 15-save shutout against Norway, a competent if underwhelming performance that was slightly marred in my critical eye by at least three puckhandling errors. That shouldn't be an issue today, indeed it should be an additional strength. Canada, whose opening game featured countless crisp breakout passes from their blueline corps, has just added another elite passer at the very back end. Moreover, the stupid trapezoid is nowhere to be seen. As an ex-goalie who has participated extensively in the "non save skills" debate, I am keen to see how the two styles play out behind the same team.
Switzerland returns just seven players from the triumph in Torino, including their one bona fide NHL skater, defenceman Mark Streit. Streit wouldn't even make Team Canada, but certainly is a solid player to anchor the blue. Defence (as usual) is the club's strength, with Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber on the cusp of the bigs. Due respect, but Yannick Weber is no Shea Weber. Canada has the edge from top to bottom, with the only possible equalizer being young Mr. Hiller who seems to be emerging into the game's upper tier of puckstoppers. He'll be tested today.
Up front the Swiss are "led" by the likes of the Edmonton native Domenichelli, fellow Swiss League veteran Martin Plüss, and former Swiss League staple and current AHL bust Andreas Ambühl. Those guys are decent players in the Spengler Cup. But these are the Olympic F. Games.