Long before T.J. Oshie became a household name with Saturday’s shootout heroics in the Winter Olympics against Russia, he made an impact with the Stampede in the United States Hockey League.
A sudden impact, in fact.
The Minnesota prep standout from Warroad made his USHL debut Sept. 25, 2004 at the Arena and scored just 39 seconds into the game (a 4-2 loss to Waterloo), showing a goal-scoring touch that would serve him well down the road in NCAA, NHL and international action.
“He was good for us when he was here,” says Gary Weckwerth, former Stampede CEO who still serves as managing partner for Sioux Falls Sports. “We knew all along he was going to be a good player, but it was tough to hang onto the kid.”
Oshie, a native of Everett, Wash., finished his senior year at Warroad High School and ended up playing just 11 games for Sioux Falls, tallying three goals and two assists for a Mark Kaufman-coached team that finished 27-28-5 and missed the playoffs.
The Herd was hoping to have Oshie for the 2005-06 season (Kevin Hartzell’s first as coach), but the University of North Dakota beckoned him earlier than expected and his time in the USHL ended.
“We won the Anderson Cup (for best record in the USHL) that year,” says Weckwerth. “It’s crazy to think about what he would have brought to that team.”
Oshie showed enough during his time in Sioux Falls to be taken in the first round (24th overall) by the St. Louis Blues. They held his rights while he played three seasons at UND, setting a school record with nine game-winning goals as a freshman.
The Blues knew they were getting a special player, which was confirmed when Oshie was selected to compete for Team USA in the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.
“An easy, easy pick,” said then-Blues director of scouting Jarmo Kekalainen on draft day. “T.J. is exactly the kind of player who can take advantage of the faster, more skilled game the NHL is looking for.”
The 27-year-old Oshie has scored 84 career goals with St. Louis, including 14 in 2013-14. Among NHL players with at least eight shootout attempts this season, he has the highest percentage at 7-for-10 (.700).
In Saturday’s stirring win over Russia, his ability to find the back net under pressure was on full display, giving Stampede fans reason to cheer.