Captials’ T.J. Oshie, gritty and youthful, still delivers at age 34



As Oshie remembers it, the whole thing happened in slow motion. He barreled down the center of the ice and deked the defender. But the puck got away from him a bit as he neared Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry, so Oshie decided there was only one thing to do — dive headfirst.

At the same time as he dived, Oshie reached out his stick. He made contact with the puck and elevated it off the ice, flipping it past Jarry and into the top right corner.

“It was kind of just a desperation-type play,” Oshie said. “You see the puck and I just dove and poked at it and hoped that it went in.”

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At 34, Oshie is making perplexing plays seem routine — and they don’t come with much fanfare or flash. A rare combination of athletic skill and youthful enthusiasm has the winger still finding ways to produce in his 13th NHL season.

Oshie showed off his passing prowess Sunday in the Capitals’ win at Philadelphia. He faked a pass near the blue line, sending the Flyers’ Connor Bunnaman to the ice. He then sent a sharp, cross-ice pass to a waiting Alex Ovechkin for the score.

Oshie’s versatility, Coach Peter Laviolette said, makes him a crucial piece. He can play center or wing, kill penalties, score on the power play, be trusted at the end of games, win faceoffs and defend after them. He has aggressiveness and on-ice awareness.

“Whatever my brain tells me I can do in that instant, that is what I try to do,” Oshie said. “It doesn’t always work out and sometimes it gets me in a little trouble and in danger’s way a little bit, but that’s just the way I’m wired.”

Oshie grew up in Everett, Wash., playing a long list of sports: roller hockey, ice hockey, basketball, football, baseball, soccer, golf. He stuck with hockey when a freshman basketball coach forced him to decide between the two.

“I thought that was just a terrible, rude thing for him to do, so I handed him the jersey that he just handed me to let me know that I had just made the freshman team,” Oshie said. “That was kind of the moment when I was like, ‘All right, I guess I’m just a hockey player now.’ ”

A year later, he moved to Warroad, Minn., where he could skate nearly every day for the next three years. If he wasn’t at one of the local indoor rinks, he was at an outdoor rink or on the pond, or he could be found in friends’ backyards.

Cary Eades, who coached Oshie at Warroad High and the University of North Dakota, described him as a “natural athlete and a supreme talent.” He grew six to seven inches in his first two years at Warroad and splashed onto the national scene.

In Oshie’s first year at Warroad, Eades remembered, he was the ringleader of the team that loved to play shinny hockey. The team was heading into the playoffs and Eades worried players could get hurt, so he banned late-night visits to the rink.

For years, Eades thought the players had followed his rules. A reunion a few years ago proved otherwise. Players said they merely turned off the rink lights, went across the street to a friend’s house and waited for the coach’s car to leave before they returned.

“There is nothing better than free ice to go out and skate, and especially when you are with your buddies,” said Oshie, who recalled Eades kicking him out of the rink multiple times. “I had to take advantage.”

That “rink rat” mentality served Oshie well as he climbed the hockey ladder. In his sixth season in Washington, he’s known as a gritty player and the heart and soul of the locker room.

“He is not just a character,” Eades said. “He’s got the character at the right time.”

Barry Trotz, his former coach in Washington, spoke of his “boyish spark.” Alexander Steen, a former teammate in St. Louis, took note of his energy.

“You wish you could bottle up just a little bit and keep it for yourself,” Steen said.

Barret Jackman, who played with Oshie in St. Louis and was his roommate on road trips, said he is so close with Oshie that he considers him a part of his family. Oshie was the first one to hold Jackman’s son, Cayden, after the infant left the hospital. When Cayden was learning to talk, Oshie became “Uncle Oaf” or just “Oaf.”

Jackman recalled a night during a trip to Columbus, Ohio, when Oshie asked Jackman if he needed anything. The veteran Jackman jokingly told Oshie he could warm up his bed. When Jackman later returned to their room, there was Oshie, in Jackman’s bed. He had done his job.

This lightheartedness is still with Oshie, years later. He can be both a bit of a goof and a grinding menace on the ice.

That’s in part why Oshie’s goal against the Penguins both stood out and simultaneously flew under the radar. Capitals television analyst Craig Laughlin was as impressed with the goal as he was not surprised by it, and he ended up describing it with a made up word on the air.

As Laughlin was breaking down the goal on the broadcast, he was caught mid-sentence as he tried to figure out how to explain what happened. He started to call it unbelievable but quickly realized that wasn’t accurate, considering Oshie’s athletic qualities. So, he switched from “unbelievable” to “incomprehensible” — but landed on “uncomprehensible” instead.

“That goal was everything,” Laughlin said. “I was caught off-guard, and it was so great when I saw him raise the puck that I thought it was better than unbelievable. T.J. deserved a made-up word for that play.”

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