Oshie takes Sochi
Former UND hockey star becomes unlikely face, and dare we say, hero for USA Hockey after incredible shoot-out exploits against Russia
Like an Old West gunslinger after a high-noon showdown on ice, former University of North Dakota hockey star T.J. Oshie coolly skated away from his deflated opponent, still crouched in net last Saturday.
The Team USA sharpshooter had just sent four of six pucks past Team Russia's goaltender Sergei Bobrovski ― one on one ― for a 3-2 shoot-out victory on the Olympic world stage. A modern miracle on ice? An instant classic? Whatever it was, it was a display of ice-cold resolve that would've made Wyatt Earp tip his hat.
As the 27-year-old Oshie, a bubble selection that was the last to make Team USA's final roster, headed back to his bench, he showed remarkable class, offering a thankful acknowledgement to his own goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who had just stopped enough Russian attempts in the shoot-out, to give him the opportunity to play hero.
It wasn't Dodge City. And it wasn't Tombstone. But it was hostile territory for the Americans, in a longtime rival's backyard, in an arena flowing with dueling patriotic fervor.
The only thing Oshie didn't do was blow on his stick to cool it off after his lethal and precise barrage.
So began the meteoric rise of the legend that has become Timothy Leif "T. J." Oshie.
Oshie and Team USA defeated the Czech Republic 5-2 on Wednesday in its quarter final game of the medal-round of the Olympics. Fellow former UND hockey player Zach Parise had a goal in the game. Oshie has a goal and three assists in four games for Team USA.
Team USA will play Canada in Friday's (Feb. 21) semifinals. The U.S. is in the semifinals for the third time in the last four Olympics.
In the 24 hours that followed Oshie's shots seen and heard 'round the world against Russia, he absolutely blew up the Twittersphere ― the modern-day barometer for measuring what's hot. Oshie, arguably one of the more obscure Team USA players before Saturday's showdown with Russia, gained more than 125,000 Twitter followers in one day. By comparison, Oshie had amassed a little more than 90,000 followers in the two-plus years that he had his Twitter account before Saturday.
The President of the United States, the Karate Kid Ralph Macchio, 1980 Miracle on Ice hero Mike Eruzione, and many professional athletes from other sports were but a few of the tweeters that sent congratulatory messages to Oshie and his teammates after the game.
Social media was abuzz all weekend with sports bar reaction clips, as people from coast to coast went hysterical watching Oshie's shoot-out game winner.
The feat got Oshie, who honed his hockey craft in Warroad, Minn. ― about 100 miles northeast of Grand Forks, invites to appear on NBC Prime Time coverage of the Olympics and on The TODAY Show, NBC's popular morning news and variety program.
Word is Oshie's agent back in Chicago is busy fielding phone calls from companies interested in endorsement deals. Even Oshie's fiancée, Lauren, and his mother, Tina, have become media favorites after his on-ice heroics.
But don't let Oshie hear you call him a hero. He gained more class points with the public over the weekend when a member of the media tried to suggest that he was, indeed, a hero. That made Oshie, a forward on the St. Louis Blues whose shoot-out prowess was well-known in NHL circles before the Olympics, a tad bid uncomfortable.
"The American heroes are wearing camo," he replied, a reference to military personnel. "That's not me." Oshie, a member of the Ojibewe people of northwest Minnesota, has a number of relatives who've served in the military.
Even Oshie's fellow UND alumni at the Olympics, Zach Parise and Johnathan Toews, were impressed with his calm under pressure during the shoot-out.
"Apparently he's pretty big deal back home now," said Parise, who captains Team USA in these Olympics and who played at UND from 2002-2004. "I mean, as a player, even if you go in twice in a break away, you can run out of moves let alone six times. I've never seen anything like that. It was awesome."
Toews, who played with Oshie at UND from 2005-2007 but who is playing for Canada in this year's Winter Games, couldn't agree more.
"Yeah, he put on a show," Toews said. "That was pretty cool to watch him. Not only scoring four out of six ― and probably could have gone six for six had he gotten a bounce on the two that he missed ― but just watching him with a smile on his face and how relaxed he looked."
Oshie played three years at UND, from 2005-2008. During that time, he scored 142 points for UND, leading the team in goals (24) as a freshman. He also set a school record and led all other NCAA players with 9 game-winning goals his first year at UND.
Including Oshie, Parise and Toews, UND has 12 current students and alumni competing or serving as support staff for Olympic teams from four nations this year: USA, Canada, Finland and Germany. Of the 88 countries in this year's Winter Games, UND has more alumni competing and serving on teams than 53 of those nations have total athletes.
This year's Team USA delegation, alone, comprises five UND alumni, the most ever to wear the red white and blue at a single Olympic Games. The 2010 U.S. Winter Olympic Team had four UND alumni, and the 1956 U.S. team had three, with Dan McKinnon, Gordy Christian and Ken Purpur winning the silver medal as hockey players.
Here are some quick-hitters about some of UND Olympic alumni:
- Michelle Karvinen, a current UND women's hockey player on Team Finland, is the leading scorer in the Olympic women's ice hockey tournament, with 5 goals and 2 assists.
- Another current UND women's hockey player, Susanna Tapani, is tied for second in scoring on Team Finland, with 1 goals and 4 assists. Tapani also is tied with fellow UND alumna Jocelyne Lamoureux ,on Team USA, for assists (4) in the Olympic women's ice hockey tournament.
- Monique Lamoureux, half of the identical twin combination on Team USA's women's ice hockey squad, is tied for the team lead in goals during the Olympics (3).
- Monique's twin sister, Jocelyne, is tied for the team lead in assists during the Olympic (5).
- The Lamoureuxs, who played in the gold-medal game against Canada on Thursday, become the first native North Dakotans' to win two Olympic medals. They were silver medalists at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and again this time in Sochi.
- The Lamoureuxs alos were trying to become the first North Dakotans to win an Olympic gold medal.
The 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi will run until Feb. 23.
Here's a complete rundown of UND alumni who are headed to this year's Winter Games:
Zach Parise, ice hockey player
T.J. Oshie, ice hockey player
Monique Lamoureux, ice hockey player
Jocelyne Lamoureux, ice hockey player
Jason Switzer, slope style snowboarding athletic trainer
Jonathan Toews, ice hockey player
Brad Pascall, vice president for hockey operations for Hockey Canada
Michelle Karvinen, ice hockey player
Susanna Tapani, ice hockey player
Max Markowitz, video coach
Tanja Eisenschmid, ice hockey player
Susanne Fellner, ice hockey player
University & Public Affairs writer