(HockeySTL) -- If T.J. Oshie never scores an official Olympic goal, the world won’t notice. Instead, they’ll be forever transfixed on his performance against Russia’s best on Saturday, a performance that will undoubtedly earn him a place in Team USA and St. Louis Blues history.
Oshie, a native of Warroad, Minnesota, performed a feat unlikely to ever be accomplished again in hockey. The 27-year old forward single-handedly outscored the Russian Olympic team in a game-deciding shootout on Saturday, beating Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky four times in six attempts.
IIHF rules allow for a team to select any shooter following the selection of the initial three shooters. Russia alternated between superstars Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, and Evgeni Malkin; Team USA countered with Oshie. And Oshie, along with USA goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stopped five of eight Russian shootout attempts, won the cold war again; this time on ice.
Oshie took five consecutive attempts in the shootout, a number that would have continued to rise had the shootout gone past Oshie’s eighth-round winner.
“T.J. has been exceptional in the shootout this year and in his career … even when he did miss we were going to ride him out,” Dan Bylsma, head coach of Team USA, told reporters following USA’s 3-2 victory.
Ironically, Oshie was almost left of Team USA’s roster. USA general manager David Poile advocated for Oshie accompanying the team to Sochi for the Olympics. The aspect of Oshie’s game he was most vocal about? Oshie’s success in the shootout.
“It’s really up to the way the guy wants to select his roster,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock earlier this season regarding the Olympic selection process.“ Sometimes they look at different positions, sometimes they look at certain players. It depends on how they guy builds his roster. When you are in the lower third, you just have to grin and bear it.”
That’s where Oshie was, the lower third. Now, he’s the most talked about player in the National Hockey League.
While NBCSN-TV broadcasters touted the shootout prowess of Malkin (38%), Datsyuk (40%) and Kovalchuk’s perfect record against Quick to millions of American viewers, they apparently forgot that Oshie is seven for 10 in shootouts this season. So he gave them a performance that they, and America, won’t soon forget.
“I think you're going to see T.J. Oshie become a household name after that display he put on,” Blues captain David Backes told reporters. “The kids'll be out on the pond probably in Minnesota right now, throwing a 5-hole on the goalie three or four times in a row. He does a great job for us in St. Louis. That's part of the reason he's on this team, along with some of the other things you can't put on the stat sheet.''
Following the game, “T.J. Oshie” was trending on Twitter, and continued to do so for the remainder of the evening. Oshie will be known around the world because of Saturday’s game. In a matter of minutes, Oshie went from St. Louis teen idol to Olympic hero.
But Blues fans in St. Louis have watched him grow and mature for years. Since being drafted in 2005 by the Blues, Oshie has become a fan favorite. His flashy moves, his energy, and his dedication have won over the hearts of many fans. But it took some time for it all to come to fruition.
Oshie is having a career 2013-14 campaign. He has 14 goals, 46 points in 57 games this season and is on pace to easily top his career-best 54 points.
Frequent injuries and inconsistencies, as well as some questionable decisions off the ice, had some around the NHL questioning whether or not the Blues and Jarmo Kekalainen, who was the Blues’ Director of Amateur Scouting when the club selected Oshie, had stretched a bit to draft the young winger with the 24th overall pick.
Oshie would not join the Blues until 2008. Three seasons later, he posted 54 points in 80 games. But this year looks to be of a different kind for Oshie, and not just statistically.
“I think the preparation has been more on attention to detail and focus than just enthusiasm and energy,” said Hitchcock.
Oshie has always been known as an energetic player. But like in any other professional sport, that will only get a player so far.
“That only lasts so long,” Hitchcock said. “Coming out of junior and college hockey you have all kinds of energy, but after you become a pro and it becomes a job you start to have to focus on more detail.”
And this year, Oshie is doing more than just providing some nifty moves on the ice. His Olympic selection speaks volumes in regards to how far he has come in the past few seasons.
“The detail of his game is starting to show through and I think that’s why he’s having such a good year,” Hitchcock said.
For the Blues, Oshie has been more than just a top assister on the stat sheet; he has been a huge help to his linemates and their overall game, as well
After spending a long stint on the Blues’ top line, Oshie was moved to various other line combinations in an attempt to spark other players. A few years ago, the Blues perhaps would have been looking for someone to spark Oshie.
“When we need help (somewhere), we put ‘Osh’ there,” said Hitchcock. “He energizes that group and then moves on to another task.”
When the season concludes, Oshie will be back in a top-line role. In a way, his career has been relived in his short Olympic experience.
Oshie started out as the dark horse, but Team USA, like the Blues, was willing to give him a shot. They gave him four shots on Saturday, and he made the most of them. Now, as beloved as Oshie is in St. Louis, his name is known on a much larger basis worldwide. The Blues have watched Oshie mature, and the world has the chance to witness the grown-up Oshie.
“He’s as advertised,” said Hitchcock. “He’s very unselfish, and he does a heck of a job.”
Oshie left St. Louis with little notoriety outside of the states. He will leave Sochi perhaps as a legend.