Whatever this country did to annoy Switzerland—whatever debit we left on their famed bank ledgers, whatever cloth napkin we tucked into our shirt collars—surely it qualifies for bygones now.
Yes, Canada beat their hockey team 33-0 in the first Olympic tournament. That was excessive, but for goodness sake it was 1924. The news probably took three days to reach Vancouver by cable, by which time everyone had gone back to work for the week.
So why are they trying so hard to embarrass us now?
Not that Canada’s 3-2 shootout win tonight was an embarrassment. On the contrary, it was a damn fine hockey game, topped off by a goal from the player we rely on most to come through in the clutch, Sidney Crosby. The fans went home with smiles on their faces. Crosby quickly donned his customary monotone for the post-game mixed zone.
“We expected them to be good,” he said. “It’s not a question of us taking them lightly. They got a bounce there on their second goal. In the third we had some great chances that didn’t go in. When you’re playing one game, a lot of little things like that can change an outcome.”
But Crosby, like everyone, had to feel a little frustrated. At an Olympic tournament Canada desperately wants and needs to win, the Swiss have no business providing the top-notch entertainment they did by storming back from a 2-0 deficit, and coming oh so close to winning in the post-regulation showdown. With three NHLers in their lineup, they kept pace throughout the game, and when Canada backed off its physical play during the second period, they made the most of their chances.
They also got brilliant goaltending from Jonas Hiller, a 28-year-old who in his other life tends net for the Anaheim Ducks. He stopped 43 shots, compared to 18 by Martin Brodeur, the Canadian veteran.
Crosby knows the history here as well as anyone, having watched it helplessly, his pride stung at being left at home. It was four years ago to the day that an overmatched Swiss team dumped a Crosby-less Team Canada 2-0 in Turin, setting the table for an early exit from those Winter Games and a lot of brave talk about Vancouver.
That game, however, haunted the airwaves and sports pages this week—especially after the Swiss clawed back into a game Tuesday against the U.S., losing 3-1. Canada’s Joe Thornton, who played on the ill-fated 2006 team, promised that the 2006 debacle wouldn’t happen again, and for a while it seemed possible the Swiss would make a fool of him. After getting a 2-0 lead, the Canadians let in a pair during the second period, including one 10 seconds before the horn.
It took a shootout, and Crosby, to salvage the big lug’s dignity. The pride of Cole Harbour, N.S. missed on his first attempt, but under IIHF rules, teams can choose whoever they like after the first three players for each team have shot. Having sent Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf at Hiller to no avail, Canadian coach Mike Babcock went back to Crosby, and this time the Kid made no mistake, wiring one past Hiller on the stick side, drawing a molar-shaking roar from the crimson horde at Canada Hockey Place. Brodeur made a nice save off Martin Pluss to seal the win.
Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau scored Canada’s regulation-time goals, while Ivo Ruthemann, a wiley 33-year-old veteran, and Patrick von Gunten answered for Switzerland.
The decision to go back to Crosby was one of those a coach sometimes makes—inspired if it works, colossally dumb it if doesn’t, considering he had the likes of Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, and Mike Richards waiting on the bench. Babcock admitted afterward he filled out his shootout card based entirely on the players’ percentages during the current NHL season.
“[Crosby] was the best, Toews was second, Getzlaf was third,” he said. “We thought about going to Nash, because he was fourth, but we just thought Sid had had a look at him once and he’d get it in the second time. It was that simple.”
Still, both Babcock and the players seemed aware they had not turned in a letter-perfect performance. The good news, said Crosby, is that “the gold medal game is not tomorrow.” “We would have liked a regulation win but we found a way, and it’s a short tournament. We’ve got to find a way to get better here.”
As for the Swiss, well, their progress seems quite tangible, despite the heart-breaking loss.
“We knew we played a great game and we had them, but then just didn’t finish in the shootout,” said Roman Wick, one of the team’s slicker forwards. “It gives us confidence to know we can keep up with teams like this.”
Confidence. Right. Evidently, this Swiss grudge isn’t going away any time soon.