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Jonas Hiller admitted it wasn’t a bad idea: maybe he should join the attack.
After reeling off his second straight 1-0 shutout at the Olympics, the Swiss goalie figured he could bolster his country’s goal-starved offence if he got the puck and fired it the length of the ice.
“I probably should,” the Anaheim Ducks goalie said. “I definitely think it would be nice to score more than just one goal a game. It would make it a little easier as a goalie.”
The Swiss haven’t been winning big at these Olympics, but they have been winning. And Hiller figures that’s all that matters.
After opening the tournament with a one-goal win against a weaker Latvian team, the Swiss dropped a tight 1-0 game to Sweden with backup Reto Berra in net, then rebounded for a convincing one-goal shutout over the Czechs on Saturday.
Three games. Two goals. Two wins. The Swiss are leaving themselves very little margin for error in Sochi, but Hiller and company are making a name for themselves at the same time.
Every Olympics has its surprise team, the one that causes problems for the bigger, mightier hockey nations much to everyone’s delight. The Swiss aren’t yet sure if they are that team, but after the way they handled Jaromir Jagr and the Czechs and nearly toppled Erik Karlsson and the Swedes, confidence is building.
But the Swiss don’t want to be the quirky underdog team. They figure they’ve got more going than that.
“In the last few years, Swiss hockey has made a big step forward,” head coach Sean Simpson said. As a player, Simpson spent most of his career in Europe, and coached Canada at the 2007 Spengler Cup, before getting behind the bench for Switzerland four years ago.
He also helped engineer one of the country’s biggest victories, a silver medal at last year’s World Championships. It was a momentous win for the country, Simpson said, particularly from a psychology standpoint.
“I think we bring a certain confidence with ourselves from that,” Simpson said. “[The players] believe they can compete with the big nations, like we’ve done so far in the tournament. So definitely the belief is a big factor in our play.”
And it was the Swiss who dragged Canada to a shootout at the Vancouver Olympics before losing 3-2 to the eventual gold medalists.
That 2010 squad had just two National Hockey League regulars on it: Hiller and defenceman Mark Streit, now of the Philadelphia Flyers. This team has eight, and the Swiss want to keep their burgeoning momentum going if they can.
Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter said it’s all about “closing the gap” between them and other countries. Call it the Swiss Mission in Sochi.
“The smaller countries, they’re not sleeping,” Niederreiter said. “The gap is closing a little bit.”
And yet, the Swiss know they’ve got a long ways to go. Asked by an American reporter whether the early showing at the Olympics has the Swiss dreaming big, thinking they can rack up a few more upsets and go all the way, Streit tempered the enthusiasm.
“I don’t know. We’ve played three games and won two of them, that’s a little bit reaching there,” Streit said.
So the Swiss haven’t begun penning their own version of the Miracle on Ice just yet. But they do believe they can shutdown more powerful teams, especially with Hiller and Berra providing hot goaltending, New Jersey Devils forward Damien Brunner said.
“We don’t want to hide against those opponents,” Brunner said. “Hiller, and also Berra, equally they’re playing unbelievable hockey for us. It’s easy for the players to play when you know the small mistakes don’t count.”
However, the silver medal at last year’s World Championships has created a new problem for the Swiss players. Though Brunner wasn’t on the roster – he was in the midst of a playoff run with Detroit at the time – he feels its after-effects.
“The mindset from all the people changed,” Brunner said. “People back home expect us to win – even if it’s not that easy.”
But if they’re going to keep things headed in the right direction, the Swiss know they have to at least start scoring in Sochi. They can’t rely on their goalies for everything.
“The chances to score are there,” Brunner said. “It’s just maybe we need a deflection, or a dirty goal, or a rebound in the crease or something, and then we’re going.”