The U.S. men's hockey team will start the medal round just as it began the preliminaries with a matchup against seemingly overmatched, yet dangerous Switzerland in the Olympic quarterfinals today.
The eighth-seeded Swiss earned the right to play the No. 1 Americans by beating upstart Belarus 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday.
The United States will try to take advantage of the favorable draw, earned with a 3-0 start that included a 3-1 victory over Switzerland last Tuesday. Should the Americans get past the Swiss, they won't have to worry about heavyweights Russia, Canada or Sweden until the gold medal game.
"Those were the three teams everyone was talking about heading into the tournament," forward Dustin Brown said Tuesday after practice. "Finishing first gives us the easier draw. Is it easier? I think it's a good draw, but you could get a hot goalie in one game and you can maybe squeak out a game."
Even though Switzerland boasts only two NHL players on its roster, one is Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. He is the main reason the Swiss can pose a threat to any powerhouse. Hiller stopped 21 American shots in the opener.
"Everybody can win one game in this tournament," said Hiller, who made 20 saves against Belarus. "We're the heavy underdog. We have nothing to lose."
Bobby Ryan, who scored the Americans' first goal against Hiller in the earlier Olympic meeting, said he saw Hiller -- his Ducks teammate -- on Tuesday morning and wished him good luck against Belarus.
Consider the pleasantries over.
"We know what the Swiss do. We obviously know their goaltender. There won't be any surprises there," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "They're the team that has the least to lose in this tournament.
"They are playing with house money."
Some might say the same about the young Americans, considered medal long shots heading into the tournament and likely candidates to have to win a qualification game to get into the quarterfinals.
That doesn't mean they are satisfied. A loss to Switzerland would be a bitter disappointment on the heels of the Americans' stirring 5-3 win over Canada on Sunday to clinch that top seed.
"It puts us in a good spot, but it doesn't mean anything if we lose tomorrow," said defenseman Brian Rafalski, who has a team-high four goals. "It doesn't mean anything if you don't advance to the final."