It wasn’t quite the Miracle on Ice. Elimination would have to have been on the line for it to come close to the most iconic Olympic event in American history, but it was, however, an unforgettable event that is the perfect example of why the Winter Olympics are great. On the morning of February 15 (well, it was morning in the United States, anyway), the United States defeated host nation Russia in a showdown for the ages.
The names in this game were enough to make it epic. Patrick Kane. Ryan Kesler. Joe Pavelski. Ryan Callahan. Phil Kessel. Jonathan Quick. Pavel Datsyuk. Ilya Kovalchuk. Alex Ovechkin. Evgeni Malkin. Sergei Bobrovsky. Who needs an All-Star Game when you can have the best players in the world playing for their respective countries. In the Olympics, they use a larger sheet of ice than the NHL does, which led to a more wide-open game for players to show off their speed and crisp passing skills.
Russia has a lot riding on this Olympic tournament. It’s more than the pressure of hosting the Olympics. Team USA consists entirely of NHL players, while the Russian team has mostly NHL talent with a handful of KHL players. This is about the Kontinental Hockey League trying to surpass the National Hockey League as the most prestigious hockey league on the planet. Ilya Kovalchuk could be playing in New Jersey, and Alexander Radulov could be playing in Nashville, but they chose to play in their native Russia. The KHL hopes this is the start of a new trend where the best European players will come back to Europe, and the young ones will never go to North America in the first place.
Regulation was not enough time to decide this game, and neither was overtime. The Unites States and Russia worked to a 2-2 draw that would have to be broken by a shootout. T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues went first for Team USA, and scored. Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins went first for Russia, and missed. James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs went second for Team USA, and missed. Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings went second, and missed. Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks went third for the United States, and missed. Ilya Kovalchuk, who left behind the twelve remaining years of his NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils to return to the KHL last summer, went third for Russia, and scored. And so the shootout after the overtime went into extra innings.
An interesting difference between the NHL and Olympic shootout rules is that in the Olympics, after the third round of shootouts, a team can tap a player who has already shot to go again, whereas in the NHL, everyone has to go before anyone can go twice. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma decided to ride T. J. Oshie for all of the extra shootouts the way a baseball manager might ride a hot hitter in October. Oshie went 4 for 6 in the shoothout, while the Russian team went back and forth between Datsyuk and Kovalchuk. In the 8th round, Kovalchuk was stopped by American goaltender and UMass alum Jonathan Quick, and Oshie had a chance to put the Russians away. He got it past Sergei Bobrovsky one final time and bars all across America began to celebrate. It wasn’t even noon yet. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A win over a powerhouse like Russia improves the standing for the United States, but it does not mean they have the Gold Medal in the bag. Let’s not forget that Team USA beat Canada early on, but lost to the Neighbors to the North in sudden death overtime in the Gold Medal Game. T. J. Oshie has gone from being a name hockey fans know to a name the most casual of American sports fans will remember for a long time. That’s the beauty of the Olympics.