While many in Mountlake Terrace may not have heard of the name TJ Oshie before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games got underway, there is one place in town where people not only know of the ice hockey star, but have held him in high regard — even before the Games began.
“He is a legend around the Olympicview ice rink,” said Michael Murphy, president of the Seattle Junior Hockey Association (SJHA) and a former youth hockey coach of Oshie’s.
While Oshie is currently a member of the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team that has reached the semi-finals of the Sochi Games, the 27-year-old forward got his start playing hockey in Mountlake Terrace when, at age 4, he began skating with the Seattle Junior Hockey Association.
Oshie was born in Mount Vernon and grew up in Everett, but his father, Timothy Oshie, had been raised playing hockey in northern Minnesota. “I wanted TJ to experience the game that I love,” Oshie Sr. explained.
For more than 10 years, the younger Oshie participated in youth hockey in the area, with practices and games at both Olympicview Arena and at the Lynnwood Ice Center. “He was a little Gretzky with his ability to handle the puck and score,” said Murphy. “It doesn’t surprise me at all of the success he is having now.”
That success includes playing in all four victories of the undefeated U.S. men’s Olympic team, with one goal and three assists, and scoring four out of six shootout attempts in the Americans’ 3-2 win over Russia on Feb. 15. Those shootout goals in particular seem to have lifted Oshie’s fame throughout the country.
“I am glad that the nation is getting to know him,” Murphy said. “He’s even a better person than a hockey player.”
As a hockey player, Oshie’s renown began early on. Murphy, who coached Oshie for four of his more than 10 years in Seattle Junior Hockey, called the youngster “a natural,” with a knack for being able to score goals. He would accumulate 200 points (adding goals and assists together) a season, Murphy recalled.
“We started taking stats away from him to not make it look so lopsided,” Murphy confessed. “There were nights he would score three goals in the first period, then stop shooting, even if he had an open net. He would look to pass instead.”
When Ochie was age 15, Ochie Sr. took his son back to Warroad, Minnesota, where TJ helped his father’s high school hockey team win two state championships. From there it was on to the University of North Dakota, where he accumulated 142 points in three seasons.
Oshie is now in his sixth year with the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League. His 46 points this season (14 goals, 32 assists) has him tied for the team lead with teammate Alexander Steen. He has also been a fan favorite in St. Louis even before he pulled on a Blues’ uniform.
After being drafted by the team in 2005, Oshie played two more seasons for the University of North Dakota. In 2007, the team qualified for the Frozen Four, the NCAA Division I Hockey Championships, which happened to be taking place in St. Louis that year. Fans, knowing that he would soon be donning a St. Louis Blues’ sweater, cheered for Oshie throughout the championships. “It was so exciting for the family,” Oshie Sr. said. “It brings a tear to my eyes when I think of the fans chanting his name as they did.”
Oshie Sr. calls Warroad home, but is in Snohomish County while his son is playing in the Olympics. He was set to go to Sochi for the Games, but is battling early effects of Alzheimer’s disease. He explained that he didn’t want to be in Russia if an episode of the illness came on suddenly, so he is watching the Games on television with family and friends from the SJHA.
TJ no longer calls Snohomish County home either, but the young star hasn’t forgotten about his hockey roots. Oshie has been back to Mountlake Terrace many times to teach hockey skills at Olympicview Arena, and returns each summer to host a fundraising golf tournament to benefit the organization.
“He remembers where he came from,” Murphy noted.
Oshie’s influence on the SJHA would be strong even if he wasn’t still involved with the group. “TJ is the biggest star to come out of Seattle Junior Hockey,” Murphy continued. “He’s an inspiration to all the players now, that they too could come out of the program and succeed.”
Oshie and the rest of the U.S. Olympic hockey team face Canada in a semi-final match-up on Friday morning, 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. A win would guarantee the team a medal and put the squad in the gold medal match slated for Saturday.
— By Doug Petrowski