What occurred at the Bolshoy Ice Dome certainly did not have the feel of just another pool game, thanks in large part to the inane pressure that the Russian hockey team is facing every single time they step on the ice.
Playing at home and regarded by some as a favorite to win the pool outright from the U.S., the Russians could be argued to be the favorite. However, Miracle On Ice this was not: it was a matter of Team USA executing at every level, making a statement along the way.
For starters, T.J. Oshie made the largest statement, abusing the IIHF’s rather entertaining but comic shootout selection rule. Oshie was one of the last players added to Team USA, but it is clear that GM David Poile envisioned Oshie stepping up in just this situation.
Oshie leads the NHL in shootout goals with seven, despite 32 of his 46 points this year coming on assists, not goals. He also is a 100 percent shooter at home, despite being ninth in the NHL with 10 shootout shots this season. This was not a matter of the last man on the bench (that would be Blake Wheeler, who never really made it onto the ice) becoming an American hero overnight — it was a matter of Oshie seizing his opportunity and executing like he has done so many times before.
Those opportunities were of course granted by U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, a man whose crease was not earned without criticism. Ryan Miller was great four years ago, but after today’s performance, there will no longer be any doubt about who starts the remainder of the Americans’ contests. Quick is now 2-0, and stopped 11 Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin shots alone. The only man that found success consistently was Pavel Datsyuk who scored twice, and there is certainly no other forward in this tournament like him, especially at home and on a large ice surface.
Quick would not have found success, however, had it not been for his defenseman. They were the biggest question mark going into the tournament, but the hybrid group that David Poile brought together for USA’s blue line have found success.
Cam Fowler specifically has been outstanding. Despite being 22 and in his first Olympics, he was a +2 against Slovakia and found himself scoring. Although not matched up against the stars of the tournament, he has proved to be an excellent defensive partner and able to fill in numerous situations.
Team USA has a long way to go, but has certainly looked better than previously thought. Considering they are now 2-0 in a difficult pool, they may have become the favorites in the eyes of some. They are now in a great position going forward, and have certainly gained a lot of confidence as round robin play winds down. Chemistry is so much a part of these tournaments, and Team USA certainly passes the eye test as they look like they have tons of it.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486