SOCHI, Russia — The U.S. men's hockey team will not be taking tentative baby steps into its first-round game Thursday against Slovakia.
The Slovaks, led by forward Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks and defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, have an outside shot at a medal in this wide-open Olympic tournament.
"They're good; they're very good,'' said T.J. Oshie, the St. Louis Blues forward and 27-year-old who played his high school hockey in Warroad, Minn., after moving from Washington state. "We know they're fast. We looked at some of their systems, but nothing too specific yet. I'm sure we'll continue to do some sharpening up on that.
"Chara, he's a presence no matter where he's at. And their goalie, (Jaroslav) Halak (an teammate of Oshie's with the Blues), we know he's very good. So we have a big battle in front of us.''
Oshie already has immersed himself in the Olympic experience, having gone up to the mountains Tuesday to watch half pipe snowboarding and the luge.
"My family and a couple of guys went up,'' he said. "It was really cool to see other athletes in the stands, see other Americans, kind of give them a nod and say hello.''
Oshie, who played collegiately at North Dakota, has international hockey experience — in the 2006 World Juniors, the 2009 IIHF World Championship and the 2010 World Championship — but he's never played in an ultra-elite, best-on-best tournament like this before.
"I've been in world championships, but this is completely different,'' Oshie said. "Being at the (athletes) village and seeing everyone, it's an experience. I've never played with this many elite players at one time. It's amazing during practice, how good every single guy is and not just 10 guys.''
Oshie is tied with St. Louis teammate Alexander Steen with a Blues-high 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) through 57 games.