It ended a little while ago in Saskatoon. Despite largely controlling play with a huge SOG edge (49-22), Team USA still had to grind out a 3-0 win over the feisty Swiss in their second preliminary, improving to 2-0. The guys in classic American road dark blue jerseys with the red, white and blue USA logo did alright in a back-to-back, earning a much needed rest before the third game Tuesday against a Latvian team that got roasted 16-zip by Canada on the tourney's first night.
Before we get to our side, let's heap plenty of praise Benjamin Conz's way. The Swiss netminder was outstanding, stoning American players in a busy second to keep his team afloat, trailing by just one into the third. He finished with 46 saves, deservedly tabbed as the Player Of The Game to cheers from a biased Canadian crowd that booed our guys at every turn. I've always disliked their fans for how they treat our players. Openly rooting against us is one thing. But booing when we score and win is pathetic. It lacks class. I can just see our fans treating their players such a way when it comes back to The States in Western New York next year. Kudos go out to Conz for a virtuoso performance that opened eyes. Can he repeat it against heavy favorite Canada? One can only hope. I'd love nothing better to see them lose and watch their self-centered fans have egg on their faces.
As for the game itself, credit the Swiss for making things interesting. They played well in a seesaw first where they outshot the Americans 14-11. Conz made some good stops but Jack Campbell was superb facing some dangerous chances that included two mini-breaks off great seam passes. In his first start, he did fight the puck early, just getting a piece of a Swiss shot that trickled through before being swept away by a teammate. He also got help from an inspired penalty killing unit that thwarted an extended 5-on-3 thanks to some stellar work from defenseman David Warsofsky, who kept Swiss players away from the front of the net. The effort from the forwards was excellent too with nice work from team captain Derek Stepan, Ryan Bourque, Jordan Schroeder and Tyler Johnson, allowing Campbell to see the shots in escaping early penalty trouble.
Following an even stanza, Team USA began to dictate with their superior skill and puck pursuit style. Stepan had a great chance but a lightning quick Conz right glove robbed him point blank. Earlier, teammate Kreider also was denied off some good work behind the net. However, the 2009 Ranger No.1 pick got on board for the game's first goal while on the power play. Stepan helped set it up, dishing across to defenseman Cam Fowler, whose one-timer was redirected past a fooled Conz.
Up one, they kept coming in bunches but couldn't beat Conz, who wouldn't allow his team to fall down more despite being outshot 23-5. He was strong against Stepan, Danny Kristo and in particular Schroeder, who he flat out stoned twice in succession. That calibre of goaltending also forced shots high and wide like a mini-break Ryan Bourque got, eerily reminding us of Slovakia's Jaroslav Janus last year. That's how good Conz was in this one, giving hopes to the anti-American sentiment. :P
What we observed with the Swiss is that they are a good skating club who can find the seam. However, they're just not as developed offensively. It was pretty evident on their bland power plays which made it easy for USA. Even with returning captain Lucas Sbisa running the point, it didn't matter. I can only recall one instance where a player made a great individual effort, coming with a full head of steam and skating around the net before firing a good tester which Campbell calmly gloved. One name which did standout was Nino Niederreiter, who went to the box. When I heard the Atlanta announcer say it, it sounded like Niedermayer. Cool name.
Due to Conz, Switzerland hung around until offensive defenseman Matt Donovan buried a Bourque backhand feed for his second of the tournament for a little breathing room with 7:25 left. The play was made possible by Smithtown's Kyle Palmieri, whose breakaway was stopped. But Bourque followed up, finding an open Donovan, who slammed one home from the right circle. If the first 40 were about the studs, the third featured the supporting cast with Jerry D'Amigo, Philip McRae, Jason Zucker, Jeremy Morin and A.J. Jenks putting together effective shifts. One of which resulted in the third tally when Jenks easily putback a Morin rebound on a play started by Warsofsky with just over three minutes remaining.
In a period which saw USA limit the Swiss to three shots, Campbell earned the shutout with 22 saves as teammates congratulated him. Defenseman John Carlson also got chances offensively but it was Kreider who received Offensive Player Honors, rewarding him for some strong play which had to impress panicked Ranger fans, who already were unfairly labeling him the next Jessiman. He opened some eyes with his quick wheels and willingness to get dirty. Something the current roster doesn't have enough of. Hopefully, it's a good sign of things to come.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Cam Fowler, USA (assist, 3 SOG, +1)
2nd Star-Chris Kreider, USA (GW-1st of tournament, team best 5 SOG, +1)
1st Star-Benjamin Conz, SUI (46 saves incl.22/23 in 2nd)