Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Two wins from Olympic hockey gold, the U.S. team has moved ever closer not only to a new legacy, but a new catch phrase.
From "Do you believe in miracles?" to "Boooooo!"
It has taken 30 years, but during a rowdy 2-0 victory over Switzerland in the quarterfinals Wednesday at Canada Hockey Place, the U.S. somehow moved from the cute descendants of Miracle on Ice to the current day Villains of Vancouver.
"We must be doing something right," goalie Ryan Miller said with a unkempt bearded grin.
They are doing plenty right, unbeaten here in four games, outscoring opponents 16-5, headed toward Friday's semifinals in a different place than they've been in years.
They are the despised. They are the derided. They are the hunted.
The thought was always, nobody really cared much about hockey in America, especially Americans. Then suddenly they beat Canada here and three days later they are playing an earnest little Swiss team with only two NHL players and . . . . it's on.
It's on in the crowd, which, with the exception of a couple of star-spangled pockets, booed the Americans throughout while cheering wildly, and sometimes weirdly, for the Swiss.
"I heard a few expletives behind our bench, but that wasn't the worst of it," Ducks forward Bobby Ryan said. "People are chanting, 'Go Swiss go,' and I'm like, what?"
"Go Swiss go!" "Swit-zer-land!" Those were just two of the makeshift cheers by folks who probably couldn't even find the country on the map. Of course, it being 30 years since the U.S. won an Olympic gold medal, maybe we should give them a break.
Said Ryan: "I'm like, what do we have to do to get them to come over to us?"
Said Chicago forward Patrick Kane. " "It's all about playing in Canada, We just beat them on their soil. We just shut down their town for a night. This is what happens."
It's also on with NBC, which blew it Sunday by relegating the U.S.-Canada game to MSNBC, but is bowing to the increasing interest by putting Friday's semifinal between the U.S. and Finland back on the real NBC.
And -- drum roll please -- they're going to actually show it live.
"We're the bad guys," said forward Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks. "And that's good."
It's also on with the players, who are skating away from their million-dollar reputations and into the muck of victory.
Their most impressive statistic Wednesday was one that the Olympics folks don't keep. The biggest reason the Americans held Switzerland to 19 shots was that many of the Swiss attempts never made it to Miller.
The U.S. team was the Hakeem Olajuwon of blocked shots.
"I haven't seen that in a long time, even in the NHL, " said defenseman Tim Gleason of the Carolina Hurricanes. "Guys are laying down left and right. . . . Guys are getting their nose dirty."
His coach put it differently.
"Chris Drury, who unanimously shouldn't be on the team if the media picked the team, blocked more shots than you guys [media] probably make typos in a day," U.S. Coach Ron Wilson said.
When the U.S. appeared to break a scoreless tie at the end of the second period -- only to have the goal disallowed because it didn't cross the line before the horn -- the Americans shrugged.
"What did we say in the dressing room?" asked defenseman Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators. "We said just keep doing what we were doing."
The onslaught finally paid off at 2:08 of the third period when Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils knocked a Brian Rafalski shot into the air. It ricocheted off Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller's mask and arm before slipping into the goal behind him.
Parise celebrated by running in place on the ice, his teeth clenched and mouth locked in a scream. The only other goal was an open-net shot by Parise in the final minute. He celebrated that one by leaping giddily into the arms of his teammates.
Said Miller, the Buffalo Sabres' goalie: "We've got guys that can put a little mustard on it."
Said Parise: "We threw 40 shots at him, and something was going to go in."
Forty-two shots exactly. And is there any question that Hiller, who last season had the tough job of replacing Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the Ducks, has now established himself as the best goalkeeper in Southern California?
He faced 159 shots in these Olympics, with 146 saves, ranking second among goalies in both categories. His defense was awful, his team was outclassed, but he was mostly brilliant, even earning a standing ovation after the first period Wednesday.
"Against a team this good, one letdown is all it takes," Hiller said afterward. "We were close, but not close enough."
A few minutes earlier, the loneliest Duck skated alone behind his teammates as they left the ice. His eyes had been full of tears. The Villains of Vancouver had struck again.
Canada knocks Russia out, 7-3 Host country ends 50 years of Olympic hockey frustration and suddenly again looks like the gold-medal favorite it was supposed to be. V5