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.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.