T.J. Oshie is a very good hockey player, one of the best on a St. Louis Blues team among the elite in the NHL, but he faced a very personal challenge with hockey fans from around the world watching Saturday and has a larger profile in the sport than he did the day before because of it.
Oshie scored four times on six shots in a shootout for the United States to help his country defeat host Russia 3-2 at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
"It was amazing," Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. "The two that he did miss he had the goalie beat on both of them. It was pretty amazing to watch. He's obviously very special in that area."
International rules for the shootout allowed Oshie's star turn. Coaches must pick three players to start the shootout, but for the fourth round and beyond any player can shoot. Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov chose to alternate between Detroit Red Wings sensation Pavel Datsyuk and former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.
United States coach Dan Bylsma kept tabbing Oshie, and he intended to keep sending him out against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky until there was a winner. Oshie scored more times in the shootout in an Olympic game than anyone ever has.
David Poile, the general manager and architect of the U.S. squad, said the day the team was announced -- Jan. 1 at the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic in Michigan Stadium -- that Oshie's shootout prowess was one of the deciding factors for including him on the roster.
There are a few American forwards with better offensive statistics or higher profiles in the NHL who were left off this team, but Oshie's inclusion looks like a great decision now.
"Yeah, it's something you practice at the end of practice all the time, just kind of messing around," said Oshie, who noted he had watched video of the Columbus Blue Jackets' Bobrovsky performing in shootouts before the game but did not know Bylsma was going to keep picking him. "I had to go back and maybe think of some different moves that I can do and maybe go back to some that I already did. It was a fun end."
Oshie is one of the best in the NHL at the shootout when he plays for the Blues. He is tied for the League lead with seven shootout goals this season, and has converted 70 percent of his attempts.
For his career, Oshie is 25 of 46 in the one-on-one competition. His 54.5 percent success rate is second among active NHL players with at least 10 career attempts behind Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders.
"T.J. has been exceptional on the shootout this year and in his career," Bylsma said. "By far, the best number on our team history-wise and this year in particular. Once we got to the fourth shooter, and just the quality moves he had, even with the misses he had, we were going to ride him out.
"We had other guys that are capable, but T.J. was the guy who was going well. … It seemed like he was going to score every time he went."
Oshie combined with Datsyuk and Kovalchuk to put on a skills clinic. The Blues forward approached Bobrovsky very slowly with each attempt. His first approach looked incredibly slow, but he was able to surprise Bobrovsky with a quick shot.
After James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski were both stopped, it was time for Oshie to take over. He made a great move on his second attempt, faking a backhand shot before coming back to his forehand but he airmailed the shot over the crossbar.
He continued to move in slowly, snapping a shot off the inside of the top of the net that "popped the water bottle" on his third try in round five. Oshie went high again to score on his fourth shot, countering a beautiful flip goal by Kovalchuk to keep the shootout going after six rounds.
Oshie's second miss, in the seventh round, was also a great move. He went to his backhand, but Bobrovsky made an incredible stick save. After United States goaltender Jonathan Quick made a save in the eighth round, Oshie went back to where he started, beating Bobrovsky through his legs to earn the Americans a dramatic victory and put them in position to win Group A and claim a bye into the quarterfinals if they defeat Slovenia on Sunday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN).
"I never realized he had that in his repertoire," United States defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "[I am] from New York and not playing the Blues that much, it was incredible to see how he stepped up and continued to be poised and do what he needed to do there. It was fun to watch from the bench.
"I'm sitting next to [Kevin Shattenkirk], his teammate and I said, 'Well, what's he going to do now?' He's like, 'He's still got this one left and that one left.' I was just thinking, 'Oh my god.' It's great to have that guy on your team, for sure."
The international stage has a way of increasing the visibility of American hockey players. Players like Mark Johnson and Mike Eurizone are household names beyond just sports fans because of their exploits at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Ryan Miller and Zach Parise found a reduced version of that Olympic fame four years ago when the Americans surprised as silver medalists, with Miller earning tournament MVP honors and Parise scoring a memorable goal to force overtime in the gold medal game.
Oshie is probably going to find out what that's like in the coming weeks and months. Succeeding at the Olympics earns recognition beyond the sports world, let alone the hockey community.
There was no triple deke in Oshie's bag of tricks Saturday, but he does bear a bit of a resemblance to a young Charlie Conway, the character who scored the winning goal in the movie "The Mighty Ducks." That's not going to hurt Oshie, either.
"That rule lends for a lot of excitement. [By shooter] No. 8, they might have started to look to somebody like me in a situation like that [in the NHL]," said David Backes, who captains the Blues. "And I tell you what, it wouldn't have been that pretty. You get to see the full gamut of the guy's moves. Datsyuk, Kovalchuk same thing. Kovalchuk rips the one high glove and then all of a sudden he does that little fadeaway flipper shot. I don't know how you do that, but I might practice that on Monday.
"It's just one of those things where it's fantastic to watch for the fans. It was great to be on the bench and to have not only a guy I play with here but play with in St. Louis, he's my roommate here, there's a lot of history with him. To have some great success like that, I couldn't be happier for him."
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer