Dallas Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin's inclusion on the Russian men's hockey team roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics was a bit controversial. Considered by many to be a long shot, he was chosen to represent his home country as the youngest player in the men's hockey tournament after a strong campaign to start his NHL career. At the time of the roster's announcement, head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov called his inclusion "an advance payment" and intimated that the young player would have to justify his being there.
After reports surfaced yesterday that Nichushkin would be Russia's healthy scratch for their opening game, most fans had accepted long ago that this would be the case. Reigning sentiment was mostly one of "what a great experience, he can learn from some of the best offensive guys in the league and he gets to go home; it's all good." Then something changed. At around 1 a.m. central time last night, Dan Rosen tweeted that it appeared Nichushkin was in the lineup for the match against Slovenia. Excitement was creeping into the Stars fan base to see what he could do on the international stage.
He didn't disappoint.
He used the patented "Nichushkin locomotive" move that Dallas fans have been drooling over all season long to put Russia up 4-2 over the Slovenia squad. Watching the game, he displayed that same sense of hunger on the puck he's displayed in Dallas since day one that helps create space for offensive chances. He had not just one but two golden opportunities in the crease area to pot goals on uncovered nets but didn't convert until his third chance where he scored on sheer willpower driving the net.
We can't show you the actual clip at the moment until it surfaces through official IOC sanctioned sources (because what is the Olympics without a little copyright fear of god?).
[Ed. note: Now we can! Here's a the GIF that's surfaced]
Stars fans definitely recognized the move. It looked kind of like this....
In just a little over ten minutes of ice time, Nichushkin scored a goal and collected an even rating with no penalties. Nichushkin earned the third star of the game for Russia, behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I think he just stated his case for not being the healthy scratch there, coach.