By Max Sass, Sports Editor
If the United States hockey team has any chance of medaling in the Winter Olympics, American goaltender Ryan Miller had better play at the level Jim Craig did in 1980.
Tuesday, the United States faced Switzerland in the first match of the 2010 Vancouver games. The red, white and blue won by a 3-1 margin in a game that should not have been that close.
Canada, on the other hand, was extremely impressive. Led by center Sidney Crosby, they defeated Norway 8-0. The Canadians started out slow, the game was tied 0-0 at the first intermission. An offensive outburst, where they outshot the Norwegians 42-15, propelled team Canada to a blowout victory.
Another gold medal favorite took the ice late Tuesday. The Russians, led by Alexander Ovechkin, beat the Latvian team 8-2.
If the Americans intend to replicate the 1980 Lake Placid team's success, Miller will have to turn in an outstanding effort in goal. One of the NHL's best, Miller tends net for the Buffalo Sabers during the regular season. The U.S.A. is a young team with no true superstar to lead them, Patrick Kane, 21 and Zach Parise, 25 are the closest to one. The U.S.A. does not have a proven clutch performer like Canada's Crosby and Russia's Ovechkin.
The Canadians are also young, with only eight of 23 players having Olympic experience. Canada has much more depth on the lower lines than the U.S.A. The Canadians have scoring threats on their first three lines and are able to match the Americans in goal. Roberto Luongo of the Canucks, playing on his home ice, shutout Norway in the first game. Luongo beat out Martin Brodeur, widely considered the game's best goalie, for the starting spot.
The Russians have an impressive blend of youth and experience. Led by Ovechkin and Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals, Russia managed 45 shots on goal. Forty-year-old Sergei Federov brings veteran experience to the Russians.
Both Canada and Russia played well enough to justify the hype surrounding them. The U.S. did win, but did not show an absolute killer instinct and appear likely to struggle against the better teams. The world has yet to see the Czech Republic and Sweden, two other nations likely to compete for medals.
Sunday's matchup against the host nation Canada will be the first difficult test for the Americans. Miller will be the key, as the Canadian offense should control most of the game. If the American goalie can pull off a Craig-like miracle, then the United States has a shot. Realistically, Mike Eruzione is long gone from the ice and Americans will be watching Canada celebrate.