Leading into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the Russian hockey and government officials made no bones about the importance of Russia medaling in men's ice hockey at the games. President Vladimir Putin and several Russian hockey people have been quoted at various times saying that a gold medal in men's hockey would be better than winning medals in all the other Olympic events.
Such a strong desire is rooted in two areas of national pride; the games being held in Russia, and Russia's desire to recapture, if only for these games, their place at the top of Olympic hockey. The Soviet Union captured seven of nine gold medals in Olympic hockey from 1952 through 1988. In 1992 Russia along with several former Soviet republics competed in the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France under the title of the Unified Team. If those 1992 games are included the Soviet Union/Unified Team won eight of ten gold medals in Olympic hockey.
Since then the rest of the hockey playing world has caught up to Russia which after dominating Olympic hockey for forty years has won a silver medal in 1998 and a bronze in 2002.
Ironically, the country that prevented the Soviets/Unified Team from going 10 for 10 in Olympic hockey was the United States. In 1960 the U.S. won hockey gold in Squaw Valley, California, defeating the Soviets along the way. Then, of course, there is the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that pulled off what many believe is the greatest upset in modern sports history, 4-3 over the Soviets in Lake Placid, New York, winning gold two days later when the defeated Finland 4-2.
Saturday morning Team USA and Team Russia took to the ice for a preliminary round match-up with all those expectations hanging over the rink at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. A very motivated Team Russia pressed Team USA with a ferocious forecheck through the first two periods. A forecheck which the Americans were visibly having a difficult time dealing with. U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick stood strong though. The teams traded goals in the second period, Pavel Datsyuk scoring first for Russia and Cam Fowler answering for the Americans during a power play, and headed into the third tied 1-1.
The U.S. struck first in the third period. Forward Joe Pavelski took a gorgeous pass from Patrick Kane during a U.S. power play and buried it behind Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky putting the U.S. ahead 2-1. The U.S. looked to be almost on cruise control at that point until Dustin Brown took an ill-advised penalty at center ice giving Russia a power play and a great chance to tie the game. The Russians did exactly that when Datsyuk struck again during the power play and shifting the momentum of the game firmly back in Russia's direction.
Russia looked as though they had scored the go-ahead goal when Fedor Tyutin netted a wrist shot from the blue line. During a review of the goal it was discovered that the net Tyutin fired the puck into was off of its moorings, thus the goal was disallowed!
The teams finished regulation time and overtime tied 2-2. The game would be decided in a shootout.
In the NHL shooters are allowed to shoot only once during a shootout. In the Olympics the first three shooters have to be different players, identical to the NHL. Beginning in round 4, however, a team can send any player they wish to shoot, even if its the same player over and over again.
The teams were still tied after three rounds of the shootout. Team Russia alternated Datsyuk and forward Ilya Kovalchuk to shoot on Quick in rounds 4-8. Team USA however sent Warroad, Minnesota native forward T.J. Oshie out for every extra round of the shootout. Quick eventually put the Americans in a position to win the shootout when he stopped Kovalchuk in round 8. Oshie scored his fourth goal in the shootout in round 8 to give the Americans the win.
Team USA looks like a lock to win their pool in the preliminary round and get a bye to the quarterfinals of the elimination part of the tournament. Russia will likely still make the elimination round but their road to any medal got a lot longer as a result of this loss. Team USA has no time to bask in the glory of toppling the Russians. They will face-off on Sunday against Slovenia, a team with only one NHL player on its roster (Anze Kopitar) but just won its first ever Olympic hockey game when they defeated Slovakia on Friday.
Sunday's match up against Slovenia will be televised live on NBC Sports Network and face-off is scheduled for 6:30 AM CST.