TJ Oshie the New American Hero After Thrilling Olympic Hockey Win over Russia

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TJ Oshie the New American Hero After Thrilling Olympic Hockey Win over Russia
Mark Humphrey/AP Images

As T.J. Oshie was slicing through Sergei Bobrovsky like a hot knife through butter during a tense and memorable shootout between the U.S. and Russia on Saturday, it was easy for the mind to drift to the Team USA selection process.

There was a time when the masterminds putting the Olympic roster together felt Oshie was not worthy of a spot on the team he almost single-handedly lifted to a 3-2 shootout victory against Russia.

ESPN’s Scott Burnside’s fantastic behind-the-scenes piece shows just how Team USA was giving serious thought to leaving Oshie behind for either Bobby Ryan or Brandon Saad. It seems general manager David Poile had a dissenting and perhaps prescient opinion.

Now there is one spot left for Ryan, Oshie and Saad.

Saad has a slight edge on Oshie, but in reality it's a dead heat with Ryan on the outside.

"I'm good with that," (Brian) Burke says.

As he has throughout, (Blackhawks GM Stan) Bowman speaks on behalf of his player, Saad.

"I think he's a more versatile player than Oshie," Bowman says.

"I think he's got more to his game than Oshie. He's like a young version of [Marian] Hossa. He's such a strong guy. He's just hard to handle. He's smart. He's a guy the coaches would love," the Chicago GM says.

Poile, meanwhile, knows Oshie and likes his personality.

"Oshie's got that shootout move," he adds. 

Oshie certainly does have that shootout move. And that one. And that one. And that one.

The 27-year-old, who was born in Everett, Wash., and starred at Warroad High School in Minnesota and University of North Dakota, made Poile look like a genius on Saturday. He scored four goals in the shootout—two to pull the Americans back from the brink of defeat and one to win it—as Team USA rallied to beat Russia and take command of Group A at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

All the Americans need to do to win the group and earn a bye into the quarterfinal is defeat Slovenia on Sunday.

The shootout in the NHL is wildly unpredictable from game to game or season to season. It requires a specialized skill set that even the best players in the world can't master. Yet Oshie is a maestro of one-on-one hockey, and he made the biggest of differences in a tight, wonderfully played game at Bolshoy Ice Dome.

For his career, the St. Louis Blues right wing is 25-of-46 in shootouts, a success rate of 54.3 percent. This season, he is 7-of-10 in shootouts. Since the shootout became part of the NHL in 2005-06, few players touch 40 percent, never mind the 50 percent mark that Oshie has achieved since his rookie season of 2008-09.

Against Russia, Oshie delivered on the biggest stage of his career, scoring on 4-of-6 attempts, with his two misses more a product of his own mistakes than anything Bobrovsky was offering in the way of resistance.

Oshie is even more valuable in an Olympic shootout than he is at home. In the NHL, you can only shoot once; at the Olympics, after your first three shooters are deployed, one player can take the rest of the attempts until the shootout is decided.

Oshie took Team USA's final five attempts. He was either going to win it or lose it. It was on him and no one else.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick deserves praise for the victory too. He had the unenviable task of facing Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk during the extra shootout rounds and made just enough saves to give Oshie a chance to be the hero.

According to Slava Malamud of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Oshie told reporters after the game: 

[I felt the pressure] a little bit. I think once the puck hits your stick and you start skating down the ice, it’s just you and the goalie and you block everyone else out. I was fortunate enough to keep him guessing and Quickie slammed the door on them.

On three of Oshie's shootout goals, he slipped the puck through Bobrovsky's legs. He used a mix of patience and quick, soft hands to slam the puck home.

"I think T.J. Oshie is going to be a household name after that display he put on," Team USA forward (and Blues teammate) David Backes said, per Malamud. "Kids will be out on the pond in Minnesota throwing a five-hole on the goalie three or four times in a row."

There was a little luck on Oshie's side too, as one of his four goals banked off the crossbar and Bobrovsky's back before trickling across the goal line to keep Team USA alive.

But it wasn't just the skills competition in which Oshie excelled.

Oshie played 9 minutes, 23 seconds in the game—only Max Pacioretty (8:31) and 13th forward Blake Wheeler (0:38) had less ice time—but he made it count. He was part of a Team USA penalty kill that did well to hold a potent Russian power play to one goal in five chances and kept them off the board during their first four opportunities.

Say what you will about Bobby Ryan's scoring ability and how it could be missed later in the tournament, but he could not have done what Oshie did against Russia.

And Poile deserves all the credit in the world.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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