Americans begin gold rush 

U.S. plays Switzerland Wednesday in quarters

The path to a gold medal in the men's Olympic hockey tournament is never easy. There are far too many good teams competing in Vancouver.

But if the United States could have created its own route to the championship game it would have looked exactly like the quarterfinal bracket that gets underway on Wednesday afternoon.

An unlikely No. 1 seed after winning all three games in pool play -- including a surprising 5-3 upset of Canada -- the Americans find themselves on the opposite side of the bracket from the Canadians, Russians and Swedes. Those three powers were the pre-tournament favorites. Canada is on home ice, Sweden took gold in 2006 in Torino and Russia has a lineup loaded with star players, including the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

"I would still say we would be the underdogs on our lack of experience," said United States forward Chris Drury, who scored a key goal in the win over Canada on Sunday. "Certainly, now that the tournament takes on a whole new meaning with single elimination, we do need to get a lot better."

The United States will play Switzerland on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST at Canada Hockey Place. A win there would lead to a semifinal game against No. 4 Finland, No. 5 Czech Republic -- both teams comparable in talent level to the United States -- or No. 12 Latvia, which played the Czechs in a first-round game late Tuesday night.

But the United States overlooks Switzerland at its peril. The Swiss were competitive in a 3-1 loss to the Americans on Feb. 16. They also pushed Canada to overtime before falling in a shootout, 3-2. Switzerland employs a steady, disciplined system. With only three NHL players on the roster and the rest based in Europe, most had the chance to practice together and play exhibition games. That's a far cry from the Americans, who were still playing NHL games as recently as 11 days ago.

"You didn't see Canada's best game [Sunday]. You didn't see Sweden's best game [Sunday]," said Team USA general manager Brian Burke. "Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up, too, or all this goes for naught. They don't hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

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I've been given the chance to write about some of the best athletes in the world. Can't imagine a job more fun than that.
Teams I cover » Capitals, Nationals
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