Kyle Okposo scores winner after being left off Olympic hockey team
On a scale of disappointments, the one on New Year's Day loomed large enough to seem Olympian for Kyle Okposo. The U.S. team for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, was named, and he, surprisingly, was not on it.
He handled it graciously and promised that he would use the snub to improve and play better for the Islanders. And Okposo could not have done any better than he did Thursday night.
He scored 58 seconds into overtime, giving the Islanders a 3-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks before a surprisingly large pre-blizzard crowd of 13,618 at Nassau Coliseum.
Many of those fans chanted "U-S-A" as Okposo celebrated the winner and was named the No. 1 star for a team that has won a season-high three games in a row.
"Sometimes you get some tough bounces in life,'' he said. "You don't always achieve your goals. I felt like I left everything out there so I don't have anything to hang my head about.
"I just wanted to go out there and play my game . . . I felt confident but I wasn't too high or jacked up because I didn't make the team. I just tried to play the same way and I felt we played a pretty good game tonight."
Okposo was like many hockey fans, just watching the annual Jan. 1 Winter Classic telecast, with special interest in the U.S. Olympic team announcement. His name never was called.
"Obviously, it's disappointing that I didn't get selected, but they put together the best team they felt was going to go over there and win a gold medal," Okposo said at Thursday's morning skate. "I'm disappointed I'm not going to be part of that."
"I think he's a great player," the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane said. "I've known him since I was 13, 14 years old and he was one of the most dominant players back then, at our age level. Still, to this day, he's just a man, the way his body is built and how strong he is on the puck. He has got a lot of talent, too. He's had a great year. I don't think he should feel any shame of being left off the team."
Okposo apparently never was seriously considered. A report on ESPN.com indicated that the U.S. team's decision-makers believed the Islanders forward is not "built for the big ice" of Olympic competition.
"That part of it's a little bit frustrating," Okposo said. "I think I've proven myself on the big sheet in college and I've had a lot of experience playing world championships with them."
He said he will watch the Olympics on TV and support the U.S. And he will use the snub as a positive, to be motivated for the rest of the Islanders' season.
With the Stanley Cup champions at the Coliseum, there was no shortage of motivation Thursday night.
Casey Cizikas, playing his 100th NHL game, beat Chicago's Bryan Bickell to the puck late in the first period and broke in alone on Corey Crawford. One deke and a forehand shot later, the Islanders were up 1-0. Thomas Vanek made it 2-0 at 8:09 of the second, scoring his 14th of the season off a pass from Okposo.
The two-goal lead, and solid goaltending to that point from Evgeni Nabokov, drew big cheers from the brave souls who came out to root for the Islanders. But the sizable contingent of Blackhawks fans had their say.
Brent Seabrook ripped a one-timer home during a power play at 18:36 of the second. Only 1:50 into the third, Ben Smith pounded home a puck that was loose in the crease to tie it at 2.
Ultimately, it was Okposo's night, and John Tavares, who assisted on the winning goal, had the final word. Said Tavares, a lock for Team Canada: "I think some of those other countries are going to be pretty lucky they don't have to play against him over there."