T.J. OSHIE has the face of a matryoshka doll, moonlike and placid with rosy cheeks that make him look as if he just walked in the door after an afternoon of tobogganing. His face says winter.
Now his face also says Winter Olympics. For the first time in his 27 years Oshie is the man on the marquee, a household name even in the White House. President Obama tweeted his warmest congratulations to "T.J. Oshie and the U.S. men's hockey team," as if Oshie were Bruce Springsteen and goalie Jonathan Quick and the rest of the boys were the E Street Band.
In the Olympic fortnight players often move up and down the lineup, but no one had ever jumped from the fourth line to the center of the national conversation. Raise your hands, America, if you knew who T.J. Oshie was before last Saturday. Thought so. Oshie does not exactly toil in obscurity—he has been a useful Blues forward for six years—but he has never had a 20-goal season. Almost all his Olympic teammates have thicker portfolios, but none can replicate Oshie's special gift.
He is a shootout army of one.
Hockey is not a game of H-O-R-S-E. There are no isolation plays, no give-the-ball-to-LeBron-and-clear-out sets. At least until Olympic shootouts. Under international rules, there is no one-per-customer. If the shootout is tied after the initial three shooters, a coach is free to designate any player to shoot as often as he likes. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma did not even consider a second option on Saturday and thus was born the Legend of T.J. Sochi. In a panoramic U.S.--Russia match that was leavened with incandescent skill and brilliant goaltending and international import, given the presence of Vladimir Putin in the stands—the Russians seemed "a class higher," opined the President despite Team USA's 3--2 victory—it was striking that the klieg light of glory settled on one simple man.
"I'm glad it ended when it did," Oshie said after the eight-round shootout. "I was running out of moves there."
This is modest exaggeration. Oshie has a bottomless pit of shakes and bakes that he can summon in the seconds it takes to skate from center ice to the face-off circles. Many are variations on a theme. He alters the angles and the delivery, but he never strays from the motif. If you wanted to classify Oshie, he would be a forehand-five-hole guy, but that is an oversimplification. Mostly he preys on weakness.
He starts all his shootouts the same way, like a pitcher who delivers his entire repertoire with the identical motion. Oshie, a righthanded shooter, commences in a leisurely fashion. He grabs the puck at the center-ice dot, glances down and then looks up as he skates wide to his right. Once he hits the blue line, he veers to the middle at roughly a 45-degree angle, a move that entices a goalie to the top of his crease and a little beyond.
As Sergei Bobrovsky drifted back toward the goal line, Oshie scanned for holes. "[Oshie] always went in the same way," said Zach Parise, the U.S. captain. "I don't know, maybe that started getting in the goalie's head a little bit, started to throw him off."
On his third shootout goal—the sixth shot for Team USA—Bobrovsky dropped early to take away the five hole. Oshie then shifted right and created a sizable opening over Bobrovsky's left glove. In a game of cat and mouse Bobrovsky, the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner with the Blue Jackets, was skunked. The winner that codified the legend was classic Oshie: quick hands, forehand, five hole. That was Oshie's fourth goal on his sixth attempt against the Russians, statistically a below-average performance for him based on his otherworldly 2013--14 NHL shootout success, converting seven of 10 shots. Of course those shots occurred in the NHL, not on the world stage.
"I guess every kid growing up always wants to do the shootout, mess around and have fun," Oshie said. "So tonight it paid off for me."
After the most meaningful of meaningless games—none of the 12 teams in the Olympic tournament was eliminated in the round robin—Oshie became a trend if not a cottage industry. Before you could say free enterprise, T.J. SOCHI 2014 and O SAY CAN OSHIE T-shirts were for sale. The Twitterati clacked its praise; Oshie quickly added more than 150,000 followers.
This is the power of one defining moment or, in Oshie's case, four. Oshie transformed a gimmick into a gold mine, a stupid hockey trick into the nexus of the Olympics. Now there is virtually nothing he can do the rest of his career that will trump the kind of show-off skill he displayed at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Like Bobrovsky on an Oshie deke, the moment is frozen in time.
STEVEN HOLCOMB AND STEVEN LANGTON
Driver Holcomb, 33, and brakeman Langton, 30, became the U.S.'s first two-man bobsled medalists since 1952 by winning bronze. Holcomb was hoping to repeat as Olympic champion in this week's four-man event.
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? The unheralded Oshie's display of sharpshooting held rapt his teammates, an arena full of fans and two presidents.
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (OSHIE)
RUSSIAN ROULETTE Time and again Oshie and Vezina-winner Bobrovsky dueled, until Oshie finally ended the game on his sixth shot.
FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS (BOBSLED)