ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Blues right wing T.J. Oshie is an instant highlight reel. He can turn a meaningless little play into something mind-boggling.
You need go back only to Thursday night, when Oshie wowed once again with the stops and starts that he put on Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford in a 3-2 Blues victory over the Blackhawks — their second of the season over the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Backhand to forehand, and then Oshie lifted the puck into the net. Another goal for Oshie, another for the Blues’ first line of Oshie, David Backes and Alexander Steen, who have combined for 14 of the Blues’ 26 goals in the team’s 5-1-1 start.
Where does it come from? You don’t just develop skills like Oshie has. Who started this whirling dervish on his way to the St. Louis Blues?
Tim and Tina Oshie take credit.
“Growing up, I’ve always been so competitive,” says Oshie, who played football, soccer and baseball in addition to hockey. “My dad and my mom have always brought that out in me. I always wanted to win and always wanted to be the best at whatever I did. That’s what drives me every time to be the best player out on the ice.”
This competitive spirit started to develop not long after he learned to walk.
“Ever since I was 2 years old, my dad and I would always be playing catch,” says Oshie, 26. “Or if we’d be watching TV, he’d always be tossing a ball to me to work to improve my hand-to-eye coordination.
“My dad would drive my brother and sister crazy.”
Oshie grew up in Warroad, a small town in northern Minnesota, with plenty of drive, but not much size. When he was 18, the Blues selected him with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
“I was surprised when the Blues called his name with a pick that high,” an Eastern Conference scout tells me. “I had seen him play at Warroad and liked his skill, but he was just 5-10, 155 or so pounds then. I saw him four or five times a year later when he was at North Dakota and I told one of my friends on the Blues’ scouting staff that they got themselves a star.
“I’ve never seen a kid with such big lungs. You rarely see a young player who’s got as much energy at the end of a shift as he has at the start, but T.J. does. He never quits. He never stops competing. What a special player.”
“I have a hard time sitting still,” says Oshie, still on the small side at 5 feet 11, 189 pounds. “I can’t turn my mind off.”
For a change, Oshie didn’t have to take time off over the summer to recuperate. The 2013 off-season was marked by Oshie not coming off an injury for the first time in more than three summers.
“I worked the whole summer instead of having to take some days off … for once,” he says.
Oshie trains at the Minnesota Hockey Camp at Brainerd, Minn., a facility opened by legendary coach Herb Brooks and carried on by scout Chuck Grillo and his son Dean. They train players age 10 and up, including some in the NHL.
“I do all of Nelson’s workouts,” he says, referring to Blues strength trainer Nelson Ayotte. “But I do the extra plyometrics and agility stuff that they have there.
“My trainer, Joe Cirardelli, knows a lot about the agility and quickness side of the game. I can see the difference in my game.”
So can Backes. “Osh is real healthy for the
first time in a little while and his energy is off the charts,” he says.
Says Oshie: “I’ve established myself as an energy guy. On the ice I would like to put more points on the board … and go farther in the playoffs. That’s the next step.”
Oshie’s scoring high came in the 2011-12 season, when he had 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points. He has only one goal so far this season, but he also has five assists for six points in seven games — a very solid start.
Now the key is to keep up that production without getting hurt. But that’s the risk when your extra-effort, never-let-up style puts you in some uncompromising positions on the ice.
“I think the way I play is the reason I put myself into the positions I get into,” Oshie admits. “But if I change that up, I don’t know if I belong on this team.”
Which means the highly competitive Oshie will continue his high-wire act.
You can email Larry Wigge at firstname.lastname@example.org.