Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 16, 2014

Shootout In Sochi Is All About Oshie

Detroit, Detroit, got a hell of a hockey team; so Paul Simon told us four decades ago. With eleven Stanley Cups, the Red Wings do indeed have a great history, sufficient for their fans to refer to Detroit not as the Motor City, but as Hockeytown. The Bruins’ six championships may fall short of the Red Wings’ haul, but the passionate fans in New England have been known to elongate Boston’s familiar “Hub” nickname to the Hub of Hockey. But on Saturday morning U.S. East Coast time, hockey fans across the land, surely including those of the Red Wings and Bruins, were all more than ready to cede bragging rights as the center of the hockey universe to Warroad, Minnesota.

For the tiny city in Minnesota’s far north, hard by the southwestern corner of Lake of the Woods and the Canadian border, such acknowledgement was no big deal. For when it comes to hockey at the quadrennial Winter Olympics, Warroad has long been Hockeytown for Team U.S.A. Given that the last census counted just 1,781 people within the city limits, such a title might seem highly unlikely. But they take their hockey seriously in the northernmost reaches of the upper Midwest. Warroad has two indoor ice arenas, matching its count of stop lights; and more than a few backyards are converted into outdoor rinks every winter. In 1956 28-year old local native Gordon Christian was a member of Team U.S.A. at the seventh Winter Games in the Italian Alps. Christian returned home with a silver medal, and a pattern of success was born.

Two more members of the Christian family, brothers Bill and Roger, played for the 1960 men’s team that won an improbable gold medal at Squaw Valley. Two decades later Bill’s son Dave was a member of the Miracle on Ice squad that shocked the heavily favored Russians in the medal round at Lake Placid and went on to claim gold. But the city’s contributions to American success in Olympic hockey aren’t limited to one family. Dan McKinnon was born in nearby Williams but lived in Warroad when he joined Gordon Christian on the 1956 men’s team. Henry Boucha led the local high school team to the 1969 state tournament, and three years later was a star for the silver medal-winning Team U.S.A. in Sapporo, Japan. In 2010 22-year old Gigi Marvin demonstrated that Warroad women can skate as well when she played in Vancouver as a member of the women’s team that brought home a silver medal.

Marvin is in Sochi, once again a member of the women’s team that is a heavy favorite to win a medal. The seventh Warroad resident to skate for her country at the Olympics, she is now almost a decade removed from being named Queen of the Frosty Festival while in high school. Her classmate who joined her as King of the local celebration was T. J. Oshie, who now plays center for the St. Louis Blues. But for this fortnight Oshie, like his former schoolmate, is in Sochi, where as a member of the men’s team he became Warroad’s eighth skater for a Team U.S.A. In a matter of minutes on Saturday he also became the town’s most famous Olympian.

The preliminary round game between the United States and Russia lacked the emotion of the Miracle on Ice. Long gone are the days when any nation is represented at the Olympic hockey tournament by a doughty band of collegians and amateurs. Although the owners detest the necessary break in the regular season schedule, NHL players have eagerly looked forward to representing their various countries at the Games since the rosters were opened to professionals in 1998. There was no medal on the line when the teams skated onto the ice at the Bolshoi Ice Dome before a full house that included Russian President Vladimir Putin; and regardless of the outcome both teams were already virtually certain to advance to the medal round. But none of that meant the game was lacking in drama; indeed at the end it was arguably the most dramatic hockey encounter ever between Team U.S.A. and Team Russia.

After a scoreless first period Pavel Datsyuk beat L.A. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick with a wrist shot to give Russia a 1-0 lead. Cam Fowler tied the score with a power play goal, and the U.S. went in front on another scored with a man advantage, this time by Joel Pavelski. But with less than 8 minutes remaining the Russians had their own power play opportunity, and Datsyuk made the most of it, scoring to again knot the score. Three minutes later defenseman Fyodor Tyutin appeared to put Russia in front on a rising shot from the point. But after a review the goal was waved off because one of the goalposts had become dislodged. Thus regulation gave way to five minutes of overtime. Midway through the extra frame Patrick Kane took an outlet pass and broke in alone on Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. But Bobrovsky, who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, showed why he won the Vezina Trophy last season by easily turning aside Kane’s shot. So came the shootout.

United States coach Dan Bylsma sent Oshie out first, knowing that the 27-year old has an almost preternatural talent at one-on-one play. In the current NHL season Oshie has scored on 7 of 10 shootout attempts, plus the one penalty shot he has tried. Those 8 goals account for more than half of his total scoring production. No one in the league has more one-on-one goals. So of course Oshie glided in from center ice and flicked the puck past Bobrovsky. But the initial shootout consists of three skaters from each team attempting to score, and after two of Oshie’s teammates and three Russians had taken their shots, the shootout was tied at 1-1.

NHL rules would have required Bylsma to use every player on his bench before allowing Oshie another chance, but the Olympics impose no such restriction. So as the shootout entered its sudden death phase, the U.S. coach turned to Oshie, again and again, five more times in all. While Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk alternated for the Russians, Team U.S.A.’s hopes fell entirely on the shoulders of the young Olympian from the tiny city in Minnesota’s far north.

Six times in all Oshie skated in towards Bobrovsky. Four times his shots beat the Russian goaltender. When the last of the four flew into the back of the net, moments after Quick had stretched out to deny Kovalchuk with his pad at the other end of the ice, Team U.S.A. had a dramatic victory. As the rest of the skaters in blue sweaters rushed to congratulate Oshie, Warroad had added its greatest entry to a tiny city’s improbable chapter in Olympic history.

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Responses

  1. I just watched the replay of the entire game this afternoon on NBC. What a fantastic contest! The ending was spectacular. I also thought it was interesting that the coach of the Russian team was a player on the CCCP squad in 1980. Although there wasn’t quite as much on the line (except national pride), the outcome was once again the same after 34 years.
    One other thing. Oshie looks more like he’s 17-years old rather than 27-years old.
    Great post,
    Bill

    • Thanks Bill. It was indeed very exciting to watch! And you are quite correct, if I didn’t know otherwise I would guess Oshie was just out of high school. By the way, your “Top 25 Pitchers” series was outstanding. Thanks again, Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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