Teamwork pays for U.S. hockey team

Young squad reaches Olympic semifinals

February 26, 2010|By Helene Elliott | Tribune Olympic Bureau

VANCOUVER — — Defending Olympic hockey champion Sweden was sent home in the quarterfinals by emerging power Slovakia.

Russia, expected to score its way to a gold medal, was run out of town by Canada.

Few events in this tournament have gone according to form, starting with host Canada's straining to beat Switzerland and stumbling against the U.S. in the first round, which sent the team to a qualifying game that stressed an entire nation.

But each of the four teams that will meet in the semifinals today at Canada Hockey Place has displayed one consistent trait through 10 pressure-packed days here.

For the U.S., which will face Finland today, the buzzword has been teamwork.

Lacking the superstars of previous generations, this American team is 4-0 because of its role players, perseverance and lack of egos.

"The best part of our team is that we know we have to do it together as a team. It's going to be different guys stepping up on different nights," beefy forward Ryan Malone said Thursday. "No one guy is going to carry us.

"As long as we're sticking to the plan and working hard we like our chances."

The unlikely leading scorer on this young team is Brian Rafalski, a balding defenseman who is the oldest player on the team at 36. He ranks among the tournament scoring leaders with four goals and six points.

The most unlikely characteristic they've shown for a young team is boundless patience, as in their quarterfinal victory over Switzerland. Goaltender Jonas Hiller stopped them 42 times but they never wavered.

"I think one of the strengths of our team is that we're pretty resilient mentally. We don't get frustrated easily," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "I think we did a good job of sticking to our game and not falling into the frustration trap that Switzerland was setting up for us. We never got down on ourselves. We never got negative with each other."

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