(photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)
By Andrew Imber
As the final spot for Team USA came down to a few names, debate amongst the United States management team was extremely heated. While a few participants indicated that perhaps a guy like Brandon Saad was more versatile and brought more to the table than the others, USA GM David Poile spoke up about T.J. Oshie.
“Oshie’s got that shootout move” Poile said.
Yeah, Oshie has a shootout move, or two, or four. The St. Louis Blues forward’s performance against Team Russia yesterday vaulted him into United States hockey lore and put The Stars and Stripes in the driver’s seat to win Group A in Sochi. Assuming all of the favorites win today, the US will probably be looking at a Quarters matchup with Switzerland (not the greatest scenario for us), and, if favorites continue to win, a date with Sweden in the Semis. However, there is still a lot left to be decided on the ice.
For now, the United States must put an emotional win behind them, and not get caught up looking past Slovenia. If there was any chance of that happening, hopefully that was put to rest with Slovenia’s shocking upset of floundering Slovakia yesterday. There is no doubt that today’s game will not be a cakewalk, and the US will need to show up to win the game and the group.
Slovenia’s Notable NHL’er – Anze Kopitar
The Good: Well, the list of NHL players is short. One. That means that the overwhelming majority of Slovenia’s roster comes from a league that doesn’t have the same pedigree as the NHL. The fact that Slovenia beat Slovakia means they know they’ll have a winnable game in the play-in round. With that in mind, and knowing they have a very difficult opponent, they may choose to get some rest for the big guns, in order to be ready for the elimination game in a couple of days. Ultimately, there’s no denying there’s a reason the team is a 1,000-1 shot for the Gold.
The Bad: If the team had to have one player from the NHL, Kopitar is obviously one of the better players in the game. The win over Slovakia means that, technically, Slovenia has a path to win the group, and may allow themselves to dream big. Plus, there’s no short changing what momentum can do for a team. They have nothing to lose, and that’s another sign of a dangerous opponent. While keeping the game close with Russia in the opener seemed more like a fluke at the time, they may be proving otherwise with strong results so far. Do not underestimate.
The Bottom Line: Oshie’s heroics mean that the United States controls its destiny with regard to winning the group. Beat a team that was looked at as perhaps the biggest underdog coming into the tournament, and you wrap up your bye and top three seed. Barring an overtime result from the Finland/Canada game, you also put yourself on the opposite side of the bracket from those two teams and Russia. While a potential date with Sweden would lurk in the Semis, injuries have made the Gold Medal contenders look slightly vulnerable.