By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Unless you’re a diehard hockey fan you probably didn’t know the name T.J. Oshie. That is, until Saturday.
One of the last players named to the U.S. Olympic roster, Oshie, a Minnesota native and St. Louis Blues forward, put on a jaw-dropping display in an eight-round shootout against the host Russians. He was put on the team largely for the exact purpose he served Saturday: He’s a shootout specialist. Specifically, he’s got a whopping 53 percent scoring rate over his career — second best among active NHL players.
The Olympics are played under different rules than the NHL and after the first three shooters are finished, teams are allowed to use repeat shooters.
Paging Mr. Oshie.
Of the dramatic eight attempts per side, Oshie took six of the shots for Team USA and cashed in on four of them, confounding Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and creating what’s been the signature moment of the Sochi Olympics so far.
It really was a stunning turn of events. Three of Oshie’s goals went five-hole — hockey terminology for a shot that goes between the goaltender’s legs.
Twice, Russian shooters scored in the first attempt of the round, putting pressure on Oshie to keep the game alive. Finally, after seven tries, goaltender Jonathan Quick made a stop and Oshie cashed the game winner, another laser between Bobrovsky’s legs, sending a nation of hockey nuts into ecstasy.
Credit coach Dan Bylsma for the gutsy call to keep using the same shooter over and over, even after he missed twice.
The victory puts Team USA at 2-0 in pool play and virtually assured of a spot in the medal round. It puts the Russians, now 1-1, in something of a bind, needing a win against a talented but struggling Slovakia team — that made a surprise run to fourth place in Vancouver in 2010 — to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
Asked after the game what his mindset was, Oshie admitted it was more instinct than plan, facing off six times against the same goaltender.
“I was just thinking of something else I could do, trying to keep him guessing,” Oshie told the Associated Press (full story on 1B). “Had to go back to the same move a couple times, but I was glad it ended when it did. I was running out of moves there.”
I wondered aloud in this space last week what incredible moments Sochi would create. Saturday morning was one of them.
Speaking of the Olympics, is anyone else as frustrated as I am about the spoiler factor?
I realize I work in media and this is hardly something new for me, but with the 11-hour time difference it’s been all but impossible not to have the evening’s events ruined. Late-night watchers like myself would greatly appreciate NBC airing live events after its 11:30 p.m. nightly broadcast (of events played more almost 24 hours earlier) rather than repeating the same three-hour loop again.
I understand they don’t want to steal prime time ratings but in the age of 24-hour news outlets, Twitter and Facebook, we’re losing the wow factor watching everything and already knowing how it ends.
I managed to avoid having Saturday’s game spoiled, though no thanks to a hockey-loving (and early rising) friend of mine who sent me a text message as the game ended.
I recorded it on DVR and got up around 10:30 a.m. to watch (sorry, not getting up at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, which is when the game aired live — not even for Olympic hockey) and glanced at my phone.
When I saw the name I knew what it was going to be about so I covered the screen with my hand and sent him a message something like “just starting to watch now, don’t ruin it for me.”
It reminded me of the classic “Seinfeld” bit where Jerry repeatedly answers the phone by shouting “Don’t tell me who won the Mets game I taped it and I’m watching it right now!” — only to have Kramer burst in the door seconds later, proclaiming “Boy, did the Mets blow it or what?”
Except Jerry was talking on a land line phone and watching on a VCR. I was watching a digital recording on my HD TV that I set to record using my smartphone.
Times may change but some things will always stay the same.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.