By Steve Keating
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – T.J. Oshie added his name to the list of American Olympic heroes with a nerveless shootout performance that lifted the United States men's ice hockey team to a heart-stopping 3-2 win over Russia at the Sochi Winter Games on Saturday.
In a heavyweight clash that evoked memories of the 1980 Olympics ‘Miracle on Ice' when a group of American college players upset the former-Soviet Union's ‘Big Red Machine', Oshie delivered the knockout punch scoring on four of his six attempts, including the winner, in an epic shootout to deny Russia its Lake Placid revenge.
Regarded as a shootout specialist, U.S. coach Dan Bylsma called on Oshie at the contest's climax, sending the 27-year-old out alone out to centre ice six-times to face down netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and over 11,000 screaming fans, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As coolly as if ice water was pumping through his veins, Oshie put four of six chances past Bobrovsky to spoil Putin's party and put his team at the top of the Group A standings.
"Just score goals, score as many goals as you can," said Oshie, shrugging off his shootout magic. "Keep the ‘tender guessing, which I think I did a pretty good job of. I couldn't do it without (U.S. netminder Jonathan) Quick shutting the door there.
"I kept looking back seeing if anyone else was going to go.
"I told some of the boys on the last couple ‘I'm running out of moves here'. So it was a little nerve-racking, but I got through it."
In the eighth round and running out of tricks, Oshie pulled out a showstopper, freezing Bobrovsky and firing the puck between the Russian's pads to end the preliminary round thriller.
Even before Oshie had time to change out of his gear, team mates were predicting kids back home in the United States were already out on the streets playing road hockey or at the rinks pulling ‘an Oshie'.
"I think you are going to see T.J. Oshie be a household name after that display he put on today," said David Backes. "Kids will be out on the pond, probably in Minnesota right now, throwing a five-hole on the goalie three or four times in a row."
Having penned one of the great Olympic moments, Oshie will take his place among American Winter sport greats like short track speed skater Apolo Ohno, downhiller Billy Johnson and ‘Miracle on Ice' alumni Jim Craig, Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione.
"It was unbelievable. You're not going to see something like that ever again," said Cam Fowler, who along with Joe Pavelski account for U.S. goals in regulation.
"To see Oshie step up like that, time-after-time, game on the line and to see Quickie make the saves that he did.
"Those are really big plays and we needed them."
(Editing by Julian Linden)