By Jim Litke Associated Press
SOCHI, Russia — His cover is blown.
T.J. Oshie, the mild-mannered forward who morphed into Superman and single-handedly outscored Russia in a shootout for the ages, won’t sneak up on anyone again soon, let alone against the Americans’ next opponent in today’s Olympic quarterfinals.
In the days since the victory over Russia, Oshie has become the hottest U.S. import here since the iPad. He got a shout-out from President Barack Obama as part of his star turn on Twitter, talked to the “Today” show and met what he called “some pretty influential people.”
Just as his teammates let up on the needling and things began to slow down, his jerseys started flying off store shelves and his agent’s phone nearly blew up. Small wonder Oshie spent the time in between hoping one of his teammates did something spectacular or silly enough to siphon off some attention.
“He takes it all in stride,” said David Backes, who is Oshie’s teammate back with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. “He came back to the room last night after doing the interviews and NBC put makeup on him and he’s like, ‘I think they’re blowing this a little out of proportion.’”
So no one who knows Oshie was surprised when he told reporters to quit throwing the word “hero” in his direction and reserve it for U.S. servicemen instead. He’s a 27-year-old who was born in Mount Vernon, grew up in Snohomish County and became a prep star in hockey-mad Warroad, Minn., barely a half-dozen miles from the Canadian border. It’s a tiny town (pop. 1,770, though the town’s rink seats “only” 1,454), but also a tough place to get a big head.
The Warriors hockey team collects state championships like a dryer gathers lint. Oshie won two in his four-year stint there, and not only is current U.S. women’s team forward Gigi Marvin from there — she and Oshie were crowned Queen and King of the Frosty Festival their senior year — both of the previous U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning hockey teams featured members of the same Warroad family: Bill and Roger Christian in 1960; Dave Christian in 1980.
That’s just one reason why Oshie comes by his humility honestly. And here’s another: check out how he spent what might have been the biggest night of his life:
“I was very calm until I got back. I talked to some family members, and that was pretty special for me. Kind of got the heart going a little bit. I talked to my fiancee, Lauren (who is pregnant and stayed back in St. Louis), and tried to go to bed. Didn’t work too well. Sat there and listened to some music.”
Oshie might have been a fan favorite in St. Louis, but he seemed like an afterthought on the U.S. Olympic roster. On a team this deep and talented, he figured to get little more than a few shifts with the fourth line, which is exactly what happened against Russia until the shootout began. He took the first shot and scored, then took the last six and cashed in four — one more than the Russians.
“It’s something you practice at the end of practice all the time, just kind of messing around. I had to go back and maybe think of some different moves that I can do and maybe go back to some that I already did,” Oshie said. “It was a fun end.”
For him, maybe. Oshie came into the game with more shootout goals in NHL games — seven — than any of his teammates. For many of the guys who play with or against him, it was just another night’s work. Based on their testimonials, he sounds less like a secret weapon than a trump card.
“Once his name got called three or four times,” recalled U.S. teammate Joe Pavelski, “we knew the next five, six, seven it was probably going to be him.”
“When he was going to shoot the first one I told the guys in the locker room that’s a guaranteed goal,” Sweden’s Patrik Berglund said. “He just went in and put it in as he always does.
“That,” Berglund added a moment later, “was a real show to watch.”
“Pretty amazing with that pressure to send that same guy out six times,” said Jonathan Toews, who stars for Canada and played college hockey alongside Oshie at North Dakota. “Even if the guy’s automatic, it takes a lot of confidence from the coaches to put a guy like that over the boards that many times. Great kid and pretty cool moment in his career, I’m sure.”
What that shootout did for the rest of Oshie’s career remains to be seen. Matt Oates, his Chicago-based agent, told The Associated Press in a phone interview he admired the way Oshie reacted after the game-winner — a quick fist-pump before turning to point back in the direction of U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, the other U.S. shootout star.
But Oates said the reaction back in the States suggests Oshie’s profile won’t remain modest for much longer.
“It has been a frenzy,” Oates said. “I’m not getting into names (of potential sponsors) at this point, though, because we’ll sort through that and take our time after T.J. gets back.”
How about Energizer batteries for starters? Like the mascot bunny, he just keeps going and going and going.