February 15, 2014
Mr. T.J. Oshie
U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team
Despite evidence to the contrary, I did not really believe in miracles, yesssss, until this romantic, snowy Saturday morning. As I sat chain-chugging coffee before the shootout began, I grumbled about the format, wondering why the Hockey Gods had to steal Olympic sudden death from us, the most exciting part of any athletic competition, particularly when we are talking about the United States vs. Russia, an icy rematch for world domination, human rights, shower curtains, Chobani yogurt, speed-skating uniform superiority, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and stray dogs. It did not dawn on me until later that it was fate. Because without the nerve-wrecking shootout, my love for you, Timothy Leif, never would have materialized.
In the original Miracle on Ice (before our own, of course), there was debate whether Mark Johnson's game-tying goal during the final second of the first period counted - it did and it led to the infamous pulling of Vladislav Tretiak. But with less than five minutes remaining today, Fedor Tyutin seemingly scored the game-winner with an improbable high shot to beat Jonathan Quick; but this time, because the net was barely dislodged, the goal was overturned. The subsequent overtime was tense, but scoreless. It is frightening to consider, but we almost didn't even get to this point, T.J. Then the shootout happened.
It is fitting that you both started and ended the drama. In the Olympics, unlike the NHL, a skater can be used again after the third shootout attempt - or in your case, what would turn out to be six chances in eight total rounds. After the Zamboni melted the ice (like you were about to do to my soul), you kicked things off and skated around in slow circles, licking your tongue out as if you were trying to catch an imaginary snowflake. Or maybe you were hallucinating, which would certainly explain your carefree, albeit awesome, approach to the intimidating Sochi stage.
In fact, the moment I fell in love is clearer than the harp seal tears Putin uses to chase his vodka: during the approach on your very first attempt, when you lazily skated towards Bobo, to the right, to the left, meandering to what seemed like a Marley jam in your head, and I wondered, "Who IS this TJ fellow? Where does he get his weed? And is he killing time to postpone a urine test?" And then you fired the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky, the camera showed your flushed cheeks and ocean-colored eyes, and it was officially over for me. This was before the next three, holy hell, three shootout goals you scored to win the game for the United States of America. And my heart.
It was nothing short of magical. One of the NBC announcers - and I apologize, because I cannot tell apart Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, or Pierre McGuire, plus I pretend everyone is Al Michaels anyway - called you "calm, cool, and collected," which was an understatement. Evgeni Malkin was up next. He tried to go top-shelf only to brick the puck into Quick's forearm, preserving our lead. James Van Riemsdyk failed next, followed by Pavel Datsyuk, Russia's hero in regulation, and Joe Pavelski. It was down to New Jersey-traitor Ilya Kovalchuk, who under severe pressure tied the game on a glove-side wrister, sending the shootout into extra frames. And this is when you took matters into your own hands, Mr. Oshie. Repeatedly.
Russia had to go first in the bonus rounds and Kovalchuk was looking to mirror his previous wizardry. He took a long approach and gathered speed, sending a shot to the glove side again, but Quick kicked it away. You skipped towards the puck for the second time, hitting your helmet down on your shaggy head, and again slowly meandered towards the net, when at the last second, you deked and tried to force a shot over Bobrovsky; had you waited a second longer, you would have had an open net, but clearly, the tension was meant to build towards a tantalizing climax, similar to the one I would like you to show me later. Datsyuk led the fifth round with a goal over Quick's blocker, but you outdazzled him to tie the game, stutter-stepping and faking your way between Bobo's legs.
At the top of the sixth, Kovalchuk quickly approached the left side and surprisingly floated a shot top-shelf to the right for the lead. It was a gorgeous, slow clap kind of goal. Not Al Michaels commented that Quick was "anticipating a fastball but Kovalchuk threw a change-up." Before you approached center-ice for the fourth time, you had a little smile on your face, which was arguably the hottest thing I have seen since I discovered photos of a shirtless Roman Josi. You took your time before ending on the right side and drilling the puck upwards, banging it off the cross-bar to bounce in off Bobrovsky and tie the game. Again. One of the commentators gushed, "This guy is money, Eddie." And all I could think was: TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT, TJ.
Round seven, Datsyuk #3 vs. Oshie #5, was a push on both ends. You tried to go backhand on the stick side, but Bobo just got a piece of it for the save. Better luck next time, quite literally. In the eighth and final inning, almost a full baseball game, we were finally able to conclude that your stick is, in fact, the Elder Wand. After Kovalchuk missed, you tapped the ice twice, casually skated to the puck, weaved to the net, and fired a low shot past Bobrovsky for the game-winner. My heart was pounding.
The truth is, our affair should have started much sooner. We have so much in common. We were both born in cities with the letters "unt" in them; Mount Vernon, Washington for you and Huntington, New York for me. We both played hockey growing up. Each of us moved during high school; I migrated to the dirty south as you fled to Minnesota. You later attended the University of North Dakota to play hockey and major in general studies, whatever the hell that is, while I went to the University of North Carolina to earn my law degree and save the world, like you did today. While there, you set a school record for most game-winning goals in a season with nine, while I set a school record for most constitutional law classes attended in sweatpants and a wife-beater. We are like the same person.
Contrary to the photos above, you are such a badass that the song named "Badass" by the Bouncing Souls mentions you by name. The lyrics of said song are amazing in their own right; they compare everything from nunchucks to muscle cars to tea to broken bones to beer, "yeah, that's so much badass stuff," to Mr. T, swearing, tennis, kung fu, croquet, demons, blood, goth chicks, vacuum cleaners, tattoos, the Shamwow, boobs, hair, pizza, break dancing and, of course, T.J. Oshie. And I know, I know all about Ms. Lauren Cosgrove, costume wearing Barbie Doll and arch nemesis. I am not worried about her. Anyone who could make you dress up like a rabbit or redneck cannot possibly be The One.
What we have - this game, the oozing stars and stripes pride, our Sochi moment together - is special. After it was over, I immediately emailed my fantasy league and asked "whoever has Oshie, I want to trade for him. Roman needs competition." I was so ecstatic and inspired that I watched the original 1980 Miracle on Ice game online, followed by The Cutting Edge on DVD, which I saw in the theater three times in 1992, shortly after I learned to ice skate. Thank you for our toe-pick moment, T.J. I patiently await your call.