USA upset hosts in Sochi shootout

Russia had been seeking revenge in Winter Olympics but USA prevail in sudden-death

TJ Oshie scores the winning goal for the USA against Russia. Photograph:  Al Bello/Getty Images

TJ Oshie scores the winning goal for the USA against Russia. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images


None of the players on the USA men’s hockey team, and only two players for Russia, were alive in 1980 when a group of plucky collegiate players pulled off the monumental upset of the Soviet Union, a collection of stars who were amateurs in name only, at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

But it seemed as if that game was played last week considering how often it was invoked in recent days. The USA and Russia were playing in the Olympics on Russian soil, and all of the appropriate historical perspective had to be established.

Despite the absence of true geopolitical intrigue this time, and even though many of these players mix socially and professionally in the National Hockey League, the latest meeting delivered its own dramatic ending. After the teams were tied, 2-2, at the end of regulation and overtime, TJ Oshie scored four times over eight rounds of a shootout and the USA won, 3-2.

The loss in the group stage of the Olympic tournament did not eliminate the Russians; it means they might have to play a qualification game to reach the quarter-finals.

Russia has a passionate interest in biathlon, and its figure skaters delivered an early boost of gold-medal enthusiasm. But nothing matters here as much as men’s hockey. Russia’s performance in that one sport will largely determine how the entire Games are judged.

Russia’s president, Vladimir V Putin, was in the stands Saturday to see for himself. In the most anticipated hockey game of the Olympics so far, he saw Pavel Datsyuk score twice for Russia, once to give the host country a 1-0 lead and then to tie the score in the third period. He also saw a play that will surely rile Russia’s fans: Russia appeared to score late in the third period, but it was waved off because the net was slightly off its moorings.

The teams went back and forth over eight rounds of a shootout before Oshie, a 27-year-old right wing for the St Louis Blues, put the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky for the decisive goal. Oshie showed a hot hand in scoring on the first turn in the shootout, so they went back to him five more times.

In a visit to the USA House on Friday, Putin had told Scott Blackmun, the US Olympic Committee chief executive, that there were many fans in Russia who recognize and revere the American players. They certainly now recognize Oshie, who went to high school and played hockey in Warroad, Minnesota, population 1,781 and known as Hockeytown USA.

Warroad has sent seven hockey players to the Olympics since and each one has returned with a medal.

An effort to scrub any bad blood, real or perceived, that exists between the countries was demonstrated by one of America’s top scorers, Patrick Kane, who made sure in every interview to praise the athlete’s village and the facilities and the treatment by the Russians of the American players.

“I’m sure there won’t be too many people rooting for us in that building,” Kane said on the eve of the game. “But it’s kind of fun to play in that hostile environment and in that situation.”

Russia were seemingly in control of the game, taking a 1-0 lead on a Pavel Datsyuk goal 9:15 into the second period. It was a typical Datsyuk goal, with him skating beautifully through American defenders.

But Alexander Radulov took a cross-checking penalty with about five minutes left in the period. He knocked over Dustin Brown far away from the play. The USA, who had not generated much in the period up to that point, capitalised. James van Riemsdyck was a spark, but Cam Fowler, a 22-year-old defenseman for the Anaheim Ducks, got the goal, which went in off his skate.

In stands near one goal, two women held a large Russian flag with the words “The Red Machine is Back.”

Decades ago, there were the days when the Big Red Machine inspired awe with its five lines clicking like pistons, firing on all cylinders. They possessed the puck until the right shot presented itself rather than dumping the puck and chasing it, as was the North American style, then and now.

Ray Shero, the associate general manager of the 2014 American Olympic team, cited his father, Fred, who coached the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975, as one of the many North Americans who studied the Russians’ style of play and incorporated some of their techniques.

“My father was a big fan of the Russian style of play,” Shero said, adding, “It was part of his coaching philosophy in the NHL.”

Shero was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1982. By the time he moved into the front office, with Ottawa in 1993, the first Russian-born players had entered the league. In his capacity as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Shero locked up the services of Evgeni Malkin, who played on the line today with Ovechkin.

Shero is the bridge between his father’s generation, which ogled the Soviet Union’s hockey teams from afar, and the players in their 20s and 30s, who grew up watching the Russians in the NHL up close.

For this group of US Olympians, the circumstances that conspired to create “The Miracle on Ice” seem like a scenario dreamed up by a screenwriter. Their grew up playing against – and enjoying success against – the Russians.

In 2004, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, and Ryan Suter joined forces to lead the USA to its first-ever victory in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. On their way to the title, the Americans scored a round-robin victory over a Russian team that included Ovechkin and Malkin. Ten years later, they were competing again, on the biggest international stage of all.

New York Times Service

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