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.
Sept. 1, 2015 | More than 40,000 spectators, plus a national television audience, watched the Little League World Series this past Sunday on a glorious afternoon in Pennsylvania. There were smiles, cheers, entertainment and the noticeable absence of demand for those 12- and 13-year-olds to pitch from 60 feet, six inches or run 90 feet between the bases like their professional baseball heroes.
Right-sized baseball and softball fields, along with age-appropriate rule modifications, have been accepted wisdom in youth baseball for more than 50 years.
Coincidentally, while Little League was paring to its finalists, U.S. Soccer announced a nationwide initiative to improve youth skill development. The centerpiece was a shift to small-sided game formats and field sizes to be phased in across the country by August 2017. As part of the new plan, American soccer at U6, U7 and U8 will be played 4v4 on a pitch approximately one-eighth the size of an adult soccer field. Nine- and 10-year-olds will play 7v7 on a one-quarter-scale pitch. Not until age 13 will players begin competing 11v11 on a regulation adult-sized pitch.
“Our number one goal is to improve our players down the road, and these initiatives will help us do that,” said Tab Ramos, U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director. “In general, we would like for players to be able to process information faster, and when they are in this (new) environment, they are going to learn to do that. Fast forward 10 years, and there are thousands of game situations added to a player’s development.”
With this change, American soccer will join sports like baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis, all of which have embraced the skill-development benefits of age-appropriate playing dimensions and competition formats (see chart below).
Those benefits are at the core of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which was recently praised by the Sports Business Journal as a “trailblazing program.”