SOCHI, Russia – It’s hard to hide when the Olympic spotlight is cast upon you. It’s even harder to hide when you’re playing in the biggest hockey game of the young tournament in front of a raucous crowd of 11,678 that included Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his security detail staring down from high above.
Somehow T.J. Oshie managed to make himself scarce at a time when U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma needed him the most.
Fortunately, Oshie eventually re-emerged and scored his fourth goal in an eight round shootout to send the U.S. to a, 3-2, victory over Russia that put them in the driver’s seat in Group A.
“At one point in time, I was looking for him up and down the bench to call on him again, and he showed up down by the defensemen,” said Bylsma, who said that the pressure of the moment aged him beyond his 42 years.
“I don’t know if he went to the end of the bench because he had one miss, but he showed himself and came through for us with great goals.”
Now in his fifth year with the St. Louis Blues, Oshie has worked hard to become a versatile forward who can do everything from set up teammates, shut down an opposing team’s top line or coming up big on the penalty kill.
But what this former inline player from Everett, Wash., may do best of all is make goaltenders look silly in shootouts. That was certainly something the U.S. management group couldn’t afford to overlook when it came to selecting the 25-man U.S. roster.
“Nothing surprises me when it comes to T.J.,” said Kevin Shattenkirk, Oshie’s teammate and good friend in St. Louis. “He’s put in a really good effort this year to make this team, and one of the reasons he’s here is because he’s so great in the shootout. That performance [tonight] was just tremendous.”
After 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of “sudden victory” weren’t enough to snap the deadlock, the game turned to a shootout. With so many talented offensive players on his bench, Bylsma went with Oshie to lead it off, and he beat Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovski with a wrist shot between the legs.
Unlike the NHL, where every player needs to shoot before a skater can go again, IIHF rules dictate that after the first three rounds a coach can use any shooter he chooses, and as many times as he wants.
The Russians alternated between Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsuyk, who scored both goals for the home team, while Bylsma stuck with a proven commodity.
“I don’t think T.J. expected to be called every time. We have other very capable shooters,” Bylsma said.
“I think a lot of our guys were caught up watching the spectacle with the skill and the show of the shootout. They were marveling at T.J. and some of his moves.”
Having to shoot multiple times forced Oshie to dig even deeper into his bag of shootout tricks for something he thought would work against Bobrovski, who won the Vezina Trophy last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I was just trying to think of something else I could do to try to keep him guessing,” he said. “I had to go back to the same move a couple of times, but I was glad it ended when it did. I was running out of moves there.”
For Oshie, he was quick to pass off the praise to U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, who came up with a number of big saves during the game and the shootout.
“I had a real good partner there in Jonathan Quick on the other side. He bailed me out a couple of times when I missed. I’m glad that last one went in and it ended it,” said Oshie, who received a congratulatory tweet from President Barrack Obama.
“It was a good win, a hard fought battle and a good test for our team. They’re a really high-caliber, elite team and I think that was a very good character team win for us.”