As the United States men’s hockey team resumes its journey, facing the Czech Republic today in the men’s Olympic quarterfinals, where it has been still resonates.
Much of the country, and certainly all of St. Louis, has changed the spelling of the Russia’s host city from Sochi to Soshie.
We have seen remarkable moments in our town’s sports history — David Freese’s World Series Game 6, Bob Pettit’s Game 6 of the 1958 NBA Finals, Bob Gibson’s 17 strikeouts in the 1968 World Series, Kurt Warner’s Super Bowl, Leon Spinks’ upset of Muhammad Ali, Stan Musial’s five home runs in a doubleheader, Red Berenson’s six-goal game ...
In the context of its circumstances, Blues forward T.J. Oshie’s Olympic shootout performance last Saturday might top the list.
I’m not sure everyone appreciates the performance on an organic level, in part because Oshie makes it look so simple. Beating one of the world’s best goalies one-on-one is hard, really hard. Beating him four times in six tries is crazy.
The two occasions in which Oshie didn’t score underline the point. He had Sergei Bobrovsky beaten both times. You can do everything right and still not succeed.
Consider stickhandling ace Patrick Kane is one for 11 in NHL shootouts this season. Alex Ovechkin, the league’s top goal-scorer, is two for 14. Pavel Datsyuk is two for seven. Kings sniper Jeff Carter is two for nine. “Sid the Kid” Crosby is two for five.
Remember, Oshie wasn’t just shooting for himself, or his team, or his particular city.
He was shooting for the country, with the entire globe watching. He was doing it again and again, over and over, five times in succession, six times overall, twice to avoid elimination and finally to win.
It wasn’t an elimination game, but it was Russia, with 34 years of “Miracle on Ice” overtones and implications. Olympic games take place only every fourth year. Was there a season’s championship on the line? No. There was more. And what happens from here on out determines how much more.
An incredible sidebar is the fact Oshie’s done it before. In the 2010 IIF World Men’s Championship in Cologne, Germany, the U.S. tied Italy 2-2 in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Oshie scored on the first shootout attempt before Italy matched. Like the Olympics, once the initial three shooters were done, the teams were allowed to use any player as often as they liked.
Oshie came back to shoot four consecutive times for the USA, tying the score once to avoid elimination and eventually scoring the game-winner. So while the casual hockey fan might not have anticipated Oshie’s role in Saturday’s shootout, it was preordained. As remarkable as his achievement in Sochi was on Saturday, he’s done it twice.
If you combine NHL and Olympic shootouts, Oshie is 11 for 16 this season. That’s comic book quality and there’s no telling where it goes with a gold medal ending.
We’ve all seen the stories about Oshie’s stock on the social platforms that define our narcissistic, celebrity-focused world.
The T.J. Oshie USA Hockey T-shirt sold out on Fanatics.com within hours after the USA-Russia game on Saturday - it has since been replenished. The city that purchased the most shirts was New York, followed by Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Boston.
Meanwhile, the Blues marketing peeps have come up with a “74 Hour Sale,” in which fans get a commemorative shootout poster and Oshie jersey with the purchase of a ticket package.
If the USA advances today and goes on to gold-medal glory, the Oshie Games will have long-lasting sizzle. Barring an individual performance more spectacular in the next few days, Oshie promises to be the marketing face of a 2014 hockey gold medal. His celebrity status will know no bounds.
Almost everyone knows about the “Miracle” game of 1980. Mike Eruzione, who scored the goal that beat the Russians that day, had a career born from his role.
Not nearly as many realize that wasn’t the gold-medal winning game in the 1980 round-robin tournament. A victory over Finland two days later clinched gold.
In that game, the USA trailed by a goal entering the third period before scoring three times to win 4-2. Nothing dramatic about that, right? Yet, everyone remembers the 4-3 win over Russia as the defining moment.
THE GOLD STANDARD
Oshie’s shootout performance will carry similar weight if the USA wins the tournament. If it doesn’t, his star won’t burn nearly as bright.
Shortly after Saturday’s game, ESPN business analyst Darren Rovell tweeted his opinion to that end, “TJ Oshie’s marketing value will only substantially increase post-games if the US wins gold.”
So, if you want No. 74 to become a national brand, you will root heavily for the U.S. to keep winning, as well you might anyway. And if your heart can take it, you might even pray for more shootouts.
At the same time, if you’re just looking forward to embracing Oshie when he returns, you’ll have to be patient. The Blues embark on a three-game trip when the NHL schedule resumes.
Unfortunately, Oshie’s first appearance on NHL ice won’t be in the U.S. — it will be in Vancouver.
Fans in Anaheim and Phoenix will have first cracks at giving him a proper red, white and blue reception. St. Louis won’t have a chance to honor Oshie until the Blues play the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 4 at the Scotty. By that time, if the USA captures Olympic gold, Oshie will belong to Everytown, USA.
But it won’t matter.
If Oshie, David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk are wearing gold medals, the national anthem will be something special that night.