Rafalski right on button for U.S.

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Switzerland's Philippe Furrer flies over goalie Jonas Hiller during their Olympic men's hockey quarterfinal game against the United States at GM Place in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — Brian Rafalski has never tried curling.

The American defenceman has watched it during these Olympics and plans to give the roaring game a shot.

Why not?

He looked like he and Zach Parise had the ice figured out at GM Place on the USA’s winning goal Wednesday against the never-quit Swiss, sending the Americans on to Friday’s semifinal against either Finland or the Czech Republic with a 2-0 win.

On the powerplay, Rafalski, who might be the best defenceman in the Olympic tournament so far, fired a shot which Parise tipped in front of Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller, who was brilliant again. The puck bounced off Hiller and slid agonizingly along until it snuck inside the right post two minutes into the third period.

“I saw Zach putting his stick in the air. I saw a good lane to get it through to him and he was able to get a piece of it and we got a little curling luck there, I think,” said Rafalski.

Wow. A curling reference. From an American.

Had Rafalski ever curled?

“No, but I’m going to have to try. I’ll have to try sometime, maybe when I’m all done here with hockey. I’ve watched here and there. I enjoy it.”

Was that an in-turn or the out-turn he played there with Parise sweeping?

“I think it was the top spin,” he said.

The goal came after 40 minutes of compelling hockey with the game Swiss hanging in there. It wasn’t decided until Parise netted his second into an empty net. The Swiss started strong, but American goaltender Ryan Miller was good in the early going. The Swiss caught a break when a goal was disallowed as time had ran out in the second period and hit a post in the third and that was about as close as they got to beating Miller.

“Nineteen shots, that’s just not enough against a team like that, a goalie like that,” said Swiss forward Hnat Domenichelli, the ex-pat Canadian. “We just couldn’t get enough sustained pressure to, one, back them off and, two, create our own chances.

“It’s disappointing. We had a chance. It’s hard 1-0, one shot and it could go either way. But they were clearly the better team on the ice.”

HEAR AND THERE: So I’m walking to the main press centre down Burrard St., Wednesday morning and a bus pulls up to the curb. A guy in a Russian track suit gets out, then another...oh, that’s Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Anton Volchenkov, Ilya Kovalchuk...it’s the Russians going for their pre-game breakfast at Don Franceso’s. The people on the sidewalk just stop to let them pass. Alexander Ovechkin is inside the restaurant looking out the window and a few people whip out cameras or cellphones, but when they point them at him, he spins on his heel and walks away.

THE BUZZ: Colleague Maxime Landry of TVA was out on Beattie St., near GM Place before the Canada-Russia game and said scalpers were asking for better than a $1,000 a ticket for the game — and getting it … USA coach Ron Wilson relishes his warm relationship with the media. “Chris Drury blocks more shots than you guys make typos in a day,” he said Wednesday,“and that’s a phenomenal number.”

REVELATIONS: Clearly the nets contract at GM Place went to the lowest bidder. First, Canada’s Shea Weber rips one through the twine Tuesday night and Wednesday, an American player lost his stick when it stuck in the mesh as he was circling the net. He had to leave it there, dangling.

SPECULATIONS: Watching Mark Streit play for the Swiss here and it’s more and more evident letting him go was one of the mistakes of Bob Gainey’s run as GM of the Montreal Canadiens. Who would you rather have? Streit at a cap hit of $4.1 million or Roman Hamrlik ($5.5 million) or Jaroslav Spacek ($3.83 million)?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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