As Oshie recalls, it all happened in slow motion. He rolled down the middle of the ice and decoded the defender. But the puck escaped him a bit as he approached penguin goalkeeper Tristan Jarry, and so Oshie decided there was only one thing – to dive upside down.
At the same time as he was diving, Oshie held out his stick. He made contact with the puck, picked it up from the ice, and tossed it past Jarry into the top right corner.
“It was kind of a desperate game,” said Oshie. “You see the puck, and I just dove and poke around in it, hoping it would go in.”
At 34, Oshie is making confusing gaming routine – and they don’t come with a lot of fanfare or Flash. A rare combination of athletic prowess and youthful enthusiasm has the winger still finding ways to produce in his 13th NHL season.
Oshie showed his skills in the Capitals victory in Philadelphia on Sunday. He forged a pass near the blue line and sent the Flyers Connor Bunnaman into the ice. Then he sent a sharp cross-ice pass to a waiting Alex Ovechkin, who was waiting for the score.
Oshie’s versatility, said coach Peter Laviolette, makes him a crucial piece. He can play in the middle or in the wing, kill penalties, score points in the power game, be trustworthy at the end of the game, win faceoffs and then defend. He has aggressiveness and awareness on the ice.
“Whatever my brain is telling me I can do right now, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Oshie said. “It doesn’t always work, and sometimes it gets me a little bit in trouble and a little bit in danger, but that’s how I’m wired.”
Oshie grew up in Everett, Washington and played a long list of sports: roller hockey, ice hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball, soccer, golf. He stayed with hockey when a new basketball coach forced him to choose between the two.
“I thought this was just a terrible, rude thing for him, so I gave him the jersey he just gave me to let me know I had just made the freshman team,” Oshie said. “It was kind of a moment when I thought, ‘All right, I’m just a hockey player now.’ ”
A year later he moved to Warroad, Minnesota, where he could skate almost every day for the next three years. When 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 trained Oshie at Warroad High and the University of North Dakota, described him as a “natural athlete and a great talent.” He grew six to seven inches in his first two years with Warroad and splashed onto the national scene.
In Oshie’s first year at Warroad, Eades recalled, he was the ringleader for the team that loved to play shinny hockey. The team was on their way to the playoffs and Eades feared players could be injured. Therefore, he forbade late-night visits to the ice rink.
For years, Eades believed that players obeyed his rules. A reunion a few years ago proved the opposite. The players said they merely turned off the lights on the rink, crossed the street to a friend’s house, and waited for the coach’s car to pull away before returning.
“There’s nothing like free ice to go out and skate, especially when you’re with your friends,” said Oshie, who remembered Eades throwing him out of the rink several times. “I had to take advantage of it.”
This “rink rat” mentality served Oshie well as he climbed the hockey ladder. In his sixth season in Washington, he’s known as the gritty gamer and the heart and soul of the locker room.
“He’s not just a character,” said Eades. “He’s got the character at the right time.”
Barry Spy, his former coach in Washington, spoke of his “boyish spark”. Alexander Steen, a former teammate in St. Louis, took note of his energy.
“They wish you could just bottle a little and keep it to yourself,” said Steen.
Barret Jackman, who played with Oshie in St. Louis and was his roommate on road trips, said he was so close to Oshie that he considered him part of his family. Oshie was the first to arrest Jackman’s son Cayden after the child left the hospital. When Cayden learned to speak, Oshie became “Uncle Oaf” or simply “Oaf”.
Jackman remembered one night while on a trip to Columbus, Ohio when Oshie asked Jackman if he needed anything. Veteran Jackman jokingly told Oshie that he could warm his bed. When Jackman later returned to her room, Oshie was in Jackman’s bed. He had done his job.
This light-heartedness is still with Oshie years later. He can be both a sucker and a menace on the ice.
This is in part why Oshie’s goal against the penguins caught the eye and flew under the radar at the same time. Capitals television analyst Craig Laughlin was as impressed as not surprised by the target, and he ended up describing it with a made-up word in the air.
When Laughlin broke the target on the show, he was caught in mid-sentence trying to figure out how to explain what had happened. He started to call it incredible, but quickly realized that this was incorrect given Oshie’s athletic qualities. So he switched from “incredible” to “incomprehensible” – but ended up with “incomprehensible” instead.
“That goal was everything,” said Laughlin. “I was unprepared and it was so great when I saw him raise the puck that I thought it was better than incredible. TJ deserves an invented word for this piece. “