T.J. Oshie felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and figured there had to be something left in the tank. Several rounds of a shootout had gone by, with the St. Louis Blues right wing scoring three times already against Russia.
He dug deep and probably remembered the colors of his sweater, the red, white and blue, which signified he wasn’t just playing for a spot in hockey lore, but more so the land of the free and home of the brave.
Oshie worked up enough courage, skated in and sent every fan back home watching the Olympics into a frenzy. Backhand. Forehand. Between the pads.
“I kept looking back, seeing if anyone else was going to go,” Oshie told the New York Times. “I told some of the boys on the last couple, ‘I’m running out of moves out here.’”
So the 27-year-old kid became the latest Olympic hero for America, burying four shootout goals in six attempts – including the game-winner against Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in a 3-2, preliminary round triumph on Saturday.
“It kind of makes me chuckle when I see it,” Blues teammate David Backes told the USA Today, after acknowledging he’s seen the same game-winning move 1,000 times in practice. “His hockey sense is off the charts and he makes plays. Today, he got to do it in front of a lot of spectators here and back home.”
If the United States and Russia meet again in the medal round, which is a likely scenario, this served as quite an appetizer. After all, if there’s any squad to worry about, it’s one comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Either way, Oshie’s success shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to hockey fans in the states, considering he’s gone 7-for-10 for the Blues this season.
“T.J. has been exceptional on the shootout, and in his career he’s been outstanding,” Penguins and Team USA coach Dan Bylsma told the Times. “By far the best number on our team, this year in particular. Once we got to the fourth shooter, and the quality moves he had, even when he missed, we were going to ride him out.”
Two of the world’s superpowers put on quite a show in the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and Oshie thrust himself into the spotlight. International hockey rules allow teams to send out the same shooters multiple times. San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk – a super-scorer cloaked with a New Jersey attitude – took the other attempts. This was all Oshie, though.
Pavelski and Datsyuk traded goals in the third, setting up a dramatic finish that seemed meant to be. This rivalry – which doesn’t need much backstory explanation – was due for another masterpiece, another gem that’d make water-cooler talk more enjoyable at the office once the weekend is over.
Russia almost pulled out a win late in the third, as Fedor Tyutin blasted a shot past Kings netminder Jonathan Quick with 4:40 on the clock. However, a review revealed the goalposts were off their pegs and the tally was disallowed.
Shortly thereafter, the kid from Everett, Wash. turned Sochi into his playground.
“I was just thinking of something else I could do, trying to keep him guessing,” Oshie said. “I had to go back to the same move a couple times. I was glad it ended when it did.”
For now, yes, it ended. This journey – glazed with a heightened sense of excitement, thanks to Oshie – is far from over.
Good for the world. Good for us.