On Saturday in Sochi, U.S. hockey player T.J. Oshie — hardly known at all to the majority of people who watched the game against Russia — joined the likes of Rocky Balboa, James Bond, and even Herb Brooks with a legendary performance defeating Russian counterparts that will go down as one of the most memorable moments in U.S. athletic history. In turn, the media and sports fans alike have dubbed the 27-year-old Minnesotan an American hero.
Olympic shootouts are different from those that NHL fans are used to seeing. After the first three shooters have their turn, in the NHL, coaches have to scan the bench and pick players who haven’t yet had an attempt. In international hockey, however, the same player can shoot over and over again if the coach chooses. On Saturday, with netminder Jonathan Quick facing the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk , two of the most skilled players in the world, head coach Dan Bylsma turned to T.J. Oshie a staggering six times.
“T.J. Sochi,” as he has been dubbed, proved his coach’s instincts to be correct and did not disappoint his teammates or his country. He scored on four attempts, including the game-winner that lifted the U.S. to a 3-2 victory.
Oshie was originally on the roster bubble when Bylsma and his staff were working to build a roster. His ability in the shootouts is part of what earned him a spot on the team. This year, he leads the NHL with a 70% and seven shootout goals.
“T. J. has been exceptional on the shootout, and in his career he’s been outstanding,” Bylsma said. “By far the best number on our team, this year in particular. Once we got to the fourth shooter, and the quality moves he had, even when he missed, we were going to ride him out.”
Quick added, “He has a lot of moves. I’ve faced him a couple of times in a shootout and it didn’t go well.”
Oshie’s smiles before shooting and silky smooth approaches might have hid his nerves at the time, but the first-time Olympian was certainly nervous. After all, he was the only player with a chance to defeat the Russians while the rest of the squad sat on the bench, their fate in his hands. “His teammates encouraged him, and urged him to shake off his two failed shots,” Sharon Terlep notes. “They said Oshie kept smiling even after the shots he failed on.”
“I kept looking back, seeing if anyone else was going to go,” Oshie said. “I told some of the boys on the last couple, ‘I’m running out of moves out here.’ ”
“I was just thinking of something else I could do, trying to keep him guessing,” he added. “I had to go back to the same move a couple times. I was glad it ended when it did.”
Just minutes, if not seconds, after Oshie’s winner, social media gave him the title of an American hero. When mobbed by reporters after the game, something the new superstar certainly hadn’t been introduced before, someone posed the question, “How does it feel to be an American hero.”
Oshie, insisted that he was not a hero. “It’s a team game,” he said. On the ice, the evidence of that belief is easy to find. He pointed at Quick, who made several big stops through the game and in the shootout to give Oshie the chance to win it, acknowledging the goalie’s importance.
Ever-cool, Oshie later deflected the spotlight again and responded, “The American heroes are wearing camo. That’s not me.”
And thus, the legend of T.J. Oshie continued to grow.