ST. LOUIS, Mo. — T.J. Oshie would prefer as much to fade into the background as he would be the star player. It’s just his style and, as of late, it’s been working well enough to consider him a top candidate to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team.
A 2005 first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, Oshie is having his best season in his six-year National Hockey League career. Yes, his goal scoring is down, but it’s the other things he’s doing that have helped his team get off to one its best starts in franchise history.
Center David Backes plays on the Blues’ first line along with Oshie and left winger Alexander Steen. Backes also played for the U.S. team at the 2010 Winter Games and doesn’t hide his desire for Oshie to join him this February in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics.
“When you watch him on the ice, it’s a humble game that he plays,” Backes said. “He’s in the corners, doing the hard work, battling guys, running them over.
“He may not always get the accolades, or the points or the cookies at the end of the night. But he brings his work boots and his lunch pail and he’s right back in there the next night. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team.”
Oshie, who was born in Washington but later moved to the legendary hockey town of Warroad in northern Minnesota, wants little more than to be on the Olympic team.
Just don’t bring it up to him. He’s put the kibosh on any talk of making the Olympics with his friends and family. To breach the subject puts it on his mind, and he is trying to keep his focus on the Blues.
Unfortunately for Oshie, his friends and family can’t contain their excitement. His girlfriend, Lauren Cosgrove, might be the worst offender. She wants the experience of the Olympics; he’s more hesitant to let her travel overseas.
The couple is expecting their first child, a girl, in April and Oshie isn’t certain that being in Russia two months before Cosgrove is due is the best decision.
“They talk about it quite a bit,” said Oshie, who played college hockey at the University of North Dakota. “I tell them if it happens it happens. I want it to happen, but I’ve got to deserve [my] spot there, first.”
That’s what impresses those around Oshie the most. He doesn’t take anything for granted. At 5-foot-11 and about 190 pounds, he’s not known for being a bruiser. He’s not what you’d call a scorer, either. Through the first 28 games of the 2013-14 season, he only had four goals. He’s never scored more than 19 in a season. He just finds ways to contribute.
Backes said that’s what makes him perfect for the U.S. team.
“He’s a blue-collar, work-your-butt-off, go-right-through-you type of player,” Backes said. “For me, it’s the epitome of blue-collar America. He’s worked for everything he’s gotten, had some adversity and fought through it. Now, he’s a darn good player at the NHL level that hopefully he’s on that team.
“And, if he’s on that team, he’s also a great team guy. If he’s asked to have a big role, he’ll definitely do that. But if he’s asked to have a smaller role, a penalty kill role or perhaps be a guy who is in and out of the lineup, he’s a guy who wouldn’t be a distraction. He’ll help the team win when he’s asked to step in.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, an assistant on the Canadian Olympic team, said that Oshie continues to impress him. He rebuffs the idea that the player is “coming into his own” or that he might not have played to his potential in his first few years in the NHL.
The coach said any difference between this year and previous years might be as much about maturity for Oshie, who turns 27 on Dec. 23, as anything else. Playing in the Winter Games would only continue that process, Hitchcock said.
“I’m really hopeful that he does,” he said. “I think that experience would do wonders for him as a professional and as far as finding another level that you have to play at.
“You have to stand up and take notice of what he’s doing right now. He’s having a [heck] of a year here. I’m really proud of him because I’m seeing the evolution of a player who doesn’t take his skill for granted. He doesn’t take his status on the team for granted. He’s a really focused guy. I’m really impressed.”
And although Oshie prefers not to talk about it, he’s not shy when asked how meaningful it would be to wear the American sweater in the Olympic Winter Games.
“I don’t even know if I could describe it until it happens,” he said. “It’s something you always dream about. It’s one of those things you take great pride in. I’ve done it in world championships but to do it on an Olympic scale, it would mean the world to me and also to my family.”
Now, if they’d only stop talking about it until Jan. 1 when the team is announced.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.