SOCHI, RUSSIA – T.J. Oshie kept jumping over the boards, hoping he had a few tricks left in his bag that might fool his worthy opponent. Should he deke, or go backhand, or perhaps lift one top shelf?
Oshie had studied Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on video and figured a few of his favorite moves wouldn’t work against him in a shootout. Oshie eventually ran out of fresh ideas, but he kept hearing his name called and the pressure kept building and the crowd grew louder and the moment kept forcing him to improvise.
“I had to go back to the same moves a couple of times,” he said. “I was running out of moves.”
Finally, on his sixth shootout attempt, the kid from tiny Warroad, Hockeytown USA, chose the perfect move and buried the puck in the net.
Oshie’s goal in the eighth round of the shootout gave Team USA a 3-2 victory against Russia in an Olympic game that felt as if it would never end yet somehow left you craving more.
“It was amazing,” Team USA’s Patrick Kane said. “I don’t think anyone could ask for a better game. Just a fun game to be a part of, a great atmosphere and great finish.”
Unlike in 1980, this one didn’t produce a miracle finish, just an epic one, the kind that won’t fade in our memory over time. How often does a game that’s smothered in hype actually exceed our expectations? This one did.
Russia was ready for this stage and did itself proud. Fans crammed inside Bolshoy Ice Dome and created the kind of noise that made your head pound and heart race. The place swelled with a roar every time Russia zoomed the puck up the ice.
Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from a suite high above the action. Al Michaels, the man who delivered one of the most famous lines in sports history — “Do you believe in miracles?’’ — sat in the front row. Those who sat in between them arrived with a sense of anticipation that something memorable might transpire, and then went home with the reality that they hadn’t been cheated.
Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov offered an interesting description of his emotions during the game that, in an odd way, made perfect sense.
“I was in, what I would call, a working ecstasy,” he said.
And to think, this was only a preliminary-round game. Imagine if somehow these teams meet again in the medal round. Um, please?
“As a player, you want to play in something this,” Team USA’s Joe Pavelski said. “That’s a big show out there.”
And they delivered, both teams, especially Oshie, who eventually stood apart in a game that showcased some of the world’s finest hockey talent.
“I think you are going to see T.J. Oshie be a household name after that display he put on,” said David Backes, a fellow Minnesotan.
So many pivotal moments preceded Oshie’s one-man shootout parade. Russia had a goal wiped out with less than five minutes left in regulation because the net came off the moorings. (Imagine being a fly on the wall in Putin’s suite after that ruling.)
Kane tried to go five-hole on a breakaway in overtime, but Bobrovsky made the stop. Team USA goalie Jonathan Quick made a series of clutch saves against Russia’s collection of high-end talent.
But by the end, the marquee belonged to Oshie. Per Olympic shootout rules, teams are permitted to use any player as many times as it desires once it goes past the third round.
Team USA coach Dan Bylsma selected Oshie first in the shootout and then again in rounds 4-8 and probably would have kept sending him out there if the shootout lasted until Easter. Oshie scored on four of his six attempts.
“I was nervous for him,” team captain Zach Parise admitted. “At some point, you think, does he have any more moves left? For someone to keep consistently scoring in a shootout like that, it’s pretty impressive.”
Backes, who is Oshie’s teammate with the St. Louis Blues, has seen those moves plenty of times. Backes says he chuckles sometimes at Oshie’s creativity in shootouts.
“I can’t do that one, or the second one, or the third one, or the fourth one, or any of them,” Backes said. “He’s a great guy to have in those situations. He is calm and collected and made some great moves.”
Afterward, Oshie disappointed those hoping for deep introspection about his thought process in those pressure moments.
“Just score as many goals as you can,” he said.
That works, too. His heroics gave Team USA two victories in two games with little time to recharge emotionally and physically before playing Slovenia on Sunday.
That game can’t possibly touch the emotion and intensity that flowed in that arena Saturday night. For once, a moment in time proved to be better than its buildup, and it turned out to be a quite a show.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org