Inside T.J. Oshie's emotional journey to 1,000 NHL games

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan still remembers his first glimpse at T.J. Oshie’s medical report when he acquired the then 28-year-old forward from the St. Louis Blues in 2015.

“I was like, ‘Holy f—, this guy’s got some miles on him.’ He had all these things on the report,” MacLellan recalled this week. “I didn’t have any idea this was going on. We ended up doing the trade anyway, but I wondered how long this would last.”

“If you had asked me if he’d play a thousand games back then, I would’ve said ‘no.'”

Oshie, now 37, became the 390th skater in NHL history to reach the 1,000-game milestone on March 16 against the Vancouver Canucks. His intensity, physicality and willingness to compete for every inch of ice made him an impact player for the Blues and the Capitals over 16 seasons.

But that style of play also took its toll. Oshie played over 75 games just four times in his career. Upper-body injuries, lower-body injuries, surgeries, a series of concussions — Oshie has experienced it all.

“It’s got to go down as a thousand of the hardest games ever played in the NHL,” said Karl Alzner, Oshie’s former teammate with the Capitals.

Some players chase benchmarks for goals or points. Ever since he entered the league, Oshie targeted the 1,000-game plateau as his career measuring stick.

“There’s no other milestones that I really set for myself in my career,” he told ESPN this week. “I looked up to the guys that came before me that reached the thousand-game mark, seeing the ceremonies and the silver sticks they’d receive. It’s a pretty cool thing and it’s tough to do.”

Oshie is being honored for his achievement on Sunday, before the Capitals’ home game against the Winnipeg Jets. His teammates will wear his number during warmups. The team and the NHL have gifts to present him.

There were certainly times Oshie wasn’t convinced he’d earn the celebration.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, honestly,” he said. “I think you when you have to go through it yourself, in the fashion that I did and the amount of time it took, it definitely takes its toll. But it was all worth it.”

Oshie’s journey to 1,000 games was an emotional one, on and off the ice.

BEFORE OSHIE PLAYED his 1,000th game in Vancouver, his teammates engaged in one of those decidedly odd, only-in-hockey rituals. They lined up against the boards and, one by one, gave Oshie a swing of their sticks to his backside, his body flinching from the contact.

The most emphatic one was delivered by Capitals winger Tom Wilson. As Oshie stood with his stick raised in front of his face like a Jedi meditating with a lightsaber, Wilson delivered a stick-spank that actually knocked Oshie off-balance on the ice.

“Well, he gives it to me pretty good sometimes,” Oshie said. “And I’ve gotten him a couple times too, but you can look at our sizes. He’s obviously got a little bit of a higher swing speed than I’ve got.”

Oshie gives as good as he gets when it comes these pregame taps of encouragement. As part of the ritual, he delivers the first set of them, and then his teammates reciprocate.

“It started probably back in St. Louis. In warmups, I had gone through and kind of tapped everyone on the butt, and then I started doing it here,” he said.

It all started in St. Louis for Oshie. They drafted him 24th overall in 2005 out of North Dakota, one spot ahead of Andrew Cogliano. Oshie debuted in the NHL during the 2008-09 season and would play 443 games with the Blues over seven seasons.

He was an important part of their core, along with players such as David Backes, Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo, and later Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. But his profile grew by leaps and bounds in 2014 when Oshie was selected for the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team for the Sochi Games.

He was added to the roster partially because of his shootout prowess. That proved prophetic in a preliminary-round game against the Russians, when Oshie’s five consecutive shootout attempts against Sergei Bobrovsky — converting four of six attempts overall — gave the Americans the victory over their hosts.

It was a moment that landed “T.J. Sochi” everywhere from “The Today Show” to cereal boxes.

“It was a pretty fun experience. For me, it wasn’t as serious and nerve-wracking as maybe it was for everyone watching on TV back home,” he said.

Oshie was in the second year of a five-year contract when he reached stardom in Sochi. While the Blues hadn’t broken through in the playoffs, he felt he was part of something they were building in St. Louis.

And then the Blues traded him to the Capitals in July 2015, in a deal that saw Troy Brouwer sent back to St. Louis.

It was a moment that rocked him, personally and professionally.

“Originally, you feel a little bit like you failed the city and the fans. That maybe you were looked at by management as kind of the problem when [the team] couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs,” said Oshie.

The Capitals didn’t see him as a problem. In fact, they coveted him.

MacLellan considered Oshie “a perfect fit” to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He tried to orchestrate a trade with the Blues for Oshie at the NHL draft that summer, but it couldn’t come together. The Capitals opted for Plan B: signing veteran right wing Justin Williams, a Stanley Cup champion, as a free agent.

“We thought we hit a home run there, right at the end of free agency. I remember it was late in the night and we get Williams, so we’re fired up about that,” MacLellan said. “And then the next day, St. Louis calls and says, ‘Are you guys still interested in Oshie?’ So we ended up getting that done the next day.”

Oshie still remembers how MacLellan’s enthusiasm changed his reaction to the trade.

“It was about five minutes of feeling pretty s—ty and that kind of goes away pretty quickly when you get the next call from Mac and hear how excited he was to get you to join their team. To try to be a part of helping them over the playoff hump,” Oshie said. “So it was a couple different waves of emotion that went over me.”

He called being acquired by the Capitals “the best thing that could have happened to my career.” Oshie played with Ovechkin, Backstrom, defenseman John Carlson and others that helped him establish a career high in goals (33) by the 2016-17 season.

“It really jump-started my career playing with world-class players,” he said. “I’ve loved my time here. We put down roots right away. I didn’t even think about going to free agency. It’s been a fun ride.”

It didn’t get any more fun than on June 7, 2018, when the Capitals and Oshie won the Stanley Cup for the first time. He dedicated it to his wife, Lauren, and beamed with pride that his children would be able to see his name etched on the Cup.

“And for my dad, who has Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Oshie’s father, Tim, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012 when he was 50 years old. T.J. celebrated the Stanley Cup win with his father on the ice, posing for photos with hockey’s Holy Grail. Creating a memory that T.J. Oshie didn’t believe would fade like so many others had for his father.

“My dad, he doesn’t remember a lot of stuff these days,” Oshie said that night, in a tearful postgame interview. “He remembers enough. But I tell you what, he’s here tonight. I don’t know where he’s at, but this one will stick with him forever. You can guarantee that.”

TIM OSHIE DIED on May 4, 2021, at the age of 56. Oshie often referred to him as “Coach,” as his father was behind the bench when T.J. was a youth hockey player.

“He still calls him ‘Coach’ all the time,” MacLellan said. “He was always excited to have him on the fathers’ trips, to have him around, to spend time with him.”

MacLellan remembers that when Tim Oshie passed, T.J. left the Capitals to attend his funeral. After spending a few days with family, Oshie wanted to rejoin the team for a game at the New York Rangers. The Capitals flew him back across the country, landing in New York on a Tuesday for a Wednesday night game.

“He scored a hat trick that night. It was unbelievable,” MacLellan said.

Oshie dedicated the game to his late father. “I have nothing but love for my teammates. I will be forever grateful for this night and especially because I got to share it with my brothers,” he said after the game.

His teammates were swept up in the emotions, too. Center Nicklas Backstrom embraced Oshie at the Capitals’ bench at the end of the game.

“I saw he got emotional there at the end, which was understandable. I felt like he needed a hug. I told him, ‘You are the strongest person I know,'” Backstrom said at the time. “We are a family. We are in this together. His loss is everyone’s loss.”

On Sunday, the Capitals will again honor Tim Oshie. The No. 77 jerseys they’ll wear in warmups will be signed and auctioned off to benefit the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, whose mission is to rapidly accelerate the development of drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a charity T.J. Oshie personally selected as the beneficiary.

“They were very instrumental when my dad was alive to help him get on the proper mix of medications to prolong his life and to make him a little bit more comfortable,” Oshie said. “For the proceeds to go to them means a lot to me. It means a lot to my family and especially the people that were very close with my dad, that were his caretakers in some pretty tough times.”

To honor Oshie’s accomplishment, the Capitals rounded up messages of congratulations from teammates past and present. One of them was Dan Hinote, who played with Oshie with the Blues, and acknowledged Tim Oshie in his clip.

“I know Coach is there with you,” Hinote said. “The one thing about losing your father is all the times in your life where you’re like, ‘Thank God my dad wasn’t here.’ Well, now he is. That’s the problem when you lose your dad is that he’s everywhere now. And he couldn’t be more proud of you.”

A POINT OF PRIDE for T.J. Oshie these days? That the Capitals are battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot this late in the season, defying preseason expectations.

Washington has some inexperience on its roster — even Spencer Carbery is in his first season as an NHL head coach — but it also has a core group of veterans who believed the team had more postseason life left in it.

“We’ve got a lot of character in the room,” Oshie said. “A lot of guys that aren’t comfortable with going away or aren’t comfortable with packing it in.”

Oshie is one of a dwindling number of Capitals players from their Stanley Cup team still on the roster. Evgeny Kuznetsov was traded to Carolina. Backstrom is on long-term injured reserve. Carlson, Wilson and Ovechkin are still there along with Oshie. Instead of being a diminished team whose only focal point was Ovechkin’s chase of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record, Washington remains right in the playoff chase.

How the Capitals have been able to do this has led to some befuddlement around the NHL. Their offense is 27th in goals per game (2.71). Their defense is a touch better (19th), but skeptics can’t get past their minus-30 goal differential.

MacLellan said that stat is deceiving.

“I think sometimes our losses are a little too bad. We just don’t have the gunpower to open it up and chase games,” he said. “So if we get down, we’re in trouble. And if we open it up, we end up losing big. So that hurts us. But I think it’s trending in the right way.”

Oshie believes the Capitals have been an underrated defensive team.

“Despite the goal differential and all that, we have guys that are willing to play the correct way defensively that makes it tough for other teams to score on us. It makes it frustrating if they don’t get their cookies right away in the first half of the game,” he said. “If we can play our game, and we can stick with it, and we get the goaltending we’ve been getting, we’re gonna be right there in the end and have a chance to maybe make a run.”

For over 1,000 games, Oshie has played his game. Through injuries and adversity and all the emotional swings one could imagine in a career.

“He does everything for his teammates, for his organization. He’s good in the community. Fans love him. He comes to the rink every day with a great attitude,” MacLellan said. “He cares about all the right things. He’s been excellent throughout his career.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top