When David Poile, Dan Bylsma, and the rest of the Team USA brain trust sat down to name the squad that they would bring to Sochi for these Winter Olympics, they allowed two reporters into the room with them to write about the thought process.
One of the more interesting bits in the piece, written by ESPN’s Scott Burnside, concerned the team’s dilemma over whether to include TJ Oshie, a forward for the St. Louis Blues, or Brandon Saad, a forward for the Chicago Blackhawks:
“As for the forwards, at the last meeting, for the first time St. Louis Blues forward TJ Oshie had been pushed just slightly off the main part of The Board with Blake Wheeler and Brandon Saad having supplanted Oshie in the top 14 forwards.
“The problem is that the coaches really want Oshie on the team. They like the possible chemistry with David Backes – who will leave that evening’s game against the Ottawa Senators with an injury – and they like Oshie’s skill in the shootout.”
That last sentence ultimately is why Oshie ended up on Team USA for the second time in his career (he also played with the team in Vancouver in 2010’s silver medal run), and the words also proved eerily prescient as Oshie helped Team USA to a 3-2 shootout victory over the host nation Russians on Saturday morning. Oshie scored four different times in the shootout, including the winner after an Ilya Kovalchuk miss opened the door in the eighth round of the festivities.
Oshie, who has a good scoring record in shootouts in the NHL, may have been in the top three list of guys that Bylsma would choose in that situation, but the fact that he kept going with the St. Louis youngster over players like Patrick Kane and Zach Parise is telling. Coaches often speak of going with “the hot hand,” but it’s rare to see such a sterling example within the confines of a single game.
Oshie clearly had the magic working throughout the shootout, using a variety of moves to best Sergei Bobrovsky, and even when he didn’t, Bylsma stuck with him, and the results speak for themselves as the US only needs one point against Slovenia on Sunday morning to clinch an automatic berth into the quarterfinals of the men’s tournament.
A big part of the reason that they are in that position was the clutch shooting of Oshie. After all, here was a guy who blew a chance to clinch the game in the fourth round of the shootout when Ilya Kovalchuk was stopped by Jonathan Quick, and yet he came right back out in the next round following a score by Pavel Datsyuk and roofed a shot over Bobrovsky to keep things going.
In the sixth round, Kovalchuk redeemed himself by scoring on a gorgeous change-up shot that completely fooled Quick. Not to be outdone, Oshie did the exact same thing at the other end of the ice, fooling Bobrovsky and keeping the U.S. hopes alive. Even when Oshie blew his second chance to clinch the game in the seventh round, he was confident enough to take advantage of yet another Quick save in the eighth inning, beating Bobrovsky and sending the U.S. bench into a frenzy.
Oshie's performance not only captured the attention of the Twitterverse, with some fans taking to calling him "TJ Sochi," as well as editing his Wikipedia page for a brief time to read "He is an American Hero," but he also got on President Barack Obama's radar:
Congrats to T.J. Oshie and the U.S. men's hockey team on a huge win! Never stop believing in miracles. #GoTeamUSA -bo
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 15, 2014
Oshie may not have the name recognition of a Kane or a Parise, but the one thing he does have is an ability to use his intelligence, creativity, and most of all, execution, to beat goaltenders in the shootout, and that’s exactly what he did on Saturday. Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff lobbied hard for him, and in proving them right, he turned himself into an overnight sensation and gave the U.S. a huge win as they attempt to soothe the wounds leftover from their loss in Vancouver four years ago.