Five years from now, you will have no idea what I’m talking about when I say, “Tell me about that Dallas Stars game in November ‘16 when they lost to the Blues in overtime.” That won’t be what jogs your memory. You probably won’t even get a glimmer of recognition in your eye when I say, “Hey, remember that game when Niemi made like four ridiculous stops on the Blues and they still lost in overtime?”
No, none of that will do the job. But in five years, I will say, “Hey, speaking of Jamie Oleksiak, I’ll never forget that Blues game when—” and you will stop me midsentence so that you can wax poetically about his two-goal game, about how he tied the game with the goalie pulled. You’ll then launch into some version of “and that was nothing compared to the goal where he walked two guys—including Alex Pietrangelo!—and then beat Jake Allen with a sick wrister. It was unreal, man!”
That is because we have not seen this Jamie Oleksiak, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying there is no guarantee whether this Oleksiak will ever appear again, because oh my goodness, where did this even come from? Most players go entire careers without scoring goals like that one, and I am not talking about the goal that bounced in off a St. Louis defender—Pietrangelo again, by the way, no big deal.
Go on, let’s watch it again, because how can you not watch this goal again, thinking all the while about how Oleksiak was approaching utter irrelevance just the other day:
And if that isn’t enough for you, I highly recommend the Darren Pang commentary of the same goal (beginning at 1:40 of this clip), which features utter incredulity if I’ve ever heard it.
Jamie Oleksiak was the story of this game, and that is saying something, considering what Antti Niemi did. The Stars’ better goalie (this season, so far) kept them in this game before Oleksiak made us do a collective spit-take, and boy howdy, did he ever need to keep them in this game. Dallas looked for much of this game like a bunch of folks auditioning for a play about hockey players submerged in an aquarium who had not learned how to play hockey in an aquarium, which is a distinct disadvantage in that circumstance. I watched that Oleksiak goal live, on my smartphone, while on a commuter train (southbound). I am not going to forget any of those details. It was that sort of a goal, the sort that makes a performance like Antti Niemi’s actually mean something.
Yes, the team lost in overtime because, as Cody Eakin had the misfortune to experience for like two and a half minutes, the Stars are kind of terrible at 3-on-3. This shouldn’t be, but there comes a time when the unavoidable must be faced, and that time was probably like, I dunno, five overtime losses ago. It’s bad. And yes, Jamies Oleksiak and Benn were sort of the ones to blame for the game-losing goal, and that
Jamie Benn did score as well, but because it’s 2016-17 and it’s Jamie Benn, that goal came on the power play. Benn has apparently come down with “2015 Spezza-itis,” that famous malady that severely inhibits even-strength scoring, but that’s probably better than what Spezza has this year (and way better than whatever space-germ Hudler is hosting), as he’s clearly battling an inner demon or a lingering injury. I mean, we knew Spezza wasn’t going to score 30 goals again, but come on, universe. This is a bit much.
There was much more about this game that you will shortly forget, including the scratch of Dan Hamhuis, whose main fault so far has been playing for this team and not being amazing, putting him roughly on par with 16 or 17 other Dallas Stars this season. I don’t fault Ruff for scratching Hamhuis, who has legitimately had some rough moments lately, but there is going to be discontentment about the defensive pairings, so I might as well mention it. This seems like the sort of thing that might come in handy the next time someone says Lindy Ruff never trusts kids over veterans, but I’ll leave that to you to sort out.
Jordie Benn, by the way, is having himself a really decent season in the midst of all of this rubbish, and it’s worth remembering that in spite of your latent miffed-ness about his presence in place of whomever you prefer. Nothing about this blue line has been great this season (though Honka is making some overtures), and that’s what makes Jordie Benn’s relative stability so far impressive. That’s also what made Oleksiak’s two goals so mind-blowing, because oh my goodness I just truthfully typed “Oleksiak’s two goals” and what is even happening anymore in this universe. I don’t want to argue about defense pairings right now.
The reunion of 21-91-18 was fun, but nothing came of it, largely on account of the Blues sort of being incredibly boring to play against. That mundanity came in hand(it)y later, of course, as their inability to really pour it on left the door open, or at least not totally bolted, when Jamie Oleksiak came calling. And when Jamie Oleksiak is calling you, I don’t recommend sending him to voice mail. He will, we have to admit now, totally embarrass your voice mail, even if your voice mail was a goldmedalist for the Canadian Olympic team in 2014. Jamie Oleksiak made Alex Pietrangelo look foolish, and that is a gift that will never stop giving, my friends.
This feels like the sort of stretch where a lot of folks will talk about how the Stars are playing badly, and that is because, well, they are. But in the midst of this dreary life, we cannot get caught up counting pebbles and bemoaning their scarcity. We ought instead to hold up each glorious hint of quartz embedded in a river of gravel and celebrate its sheen. Even gravel has a purpose, and sometimes the noblest purpose of all can be setting a drab backdrop to add contrast to a glorious picture.
Here is that picture, again, because this is why we watch hockey. When Jamie Benn racked up that second assist in April 2015, you suddenly stopped caring that the team wasn’t making the playoffs. For the moment, something wonderfully unexpected had happened, and you almost couldn’t believe it. That sort of surprise is a gift, and a rare one. Jamie Oleksiak decided to risk looking silly tonight in order to give us a gift, and he succeeded, twice. We can be sad about the season so far while also being deliriously happy about Jamie Oleksiak scoring the goal of a lifetime. For a moment, hockey was wonderful and surprising in its joy. For a moment, hockey winked at us.
The Stars lost in overtime, again. And just when we thought hockey couldn’t get any dumber, then it went out and did something like this--and totally redeemed itself.