SOCHI, RUSSIA - T.J. Oshie was hardly a recognizable name when the Olympics began. Even die-hard hockey fans probably knew little of Oshie beyond basic details about his career. Not anymore.
As Team USA prepares to play the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament Wednesday, Oshie has become one of these Games’ unexpected stars. His one-man shootout display in a thriller against Russia on Saturday brought overnight celebrity to the unassuming kid who once starred for Warroad High School.
Oshie gained more than 130,000 new Twitter followers in 24 hours. President Obama sent him a congratulatory tweet. He has made series of national media appearances, including a segment on the “Today Show.”
People now know that his real name is Timothy Leif and that he has a drop-dead gorgeous fiancée with a baby on the way. And in a spinoff of his last name, some are referring to these Games as the “Soshie” Olympics.
Oshie’s entire life has gone viral.
“I don’t mind it as long as it doesn’t get in the way of how me and my teammates play the game,” Oshie said after practice Tuesday. “It hasn’t been too tough. I’ve been a little bit busier than I expected, but that’s OK. Anything that can grow our sport a little bit is all for the better.”
OK, so some of this newfound celebrity is nuts, such as one unusual question he received Monday.
“Someone asked how I would respond to them saying that their wife would leave him in two seconds for me,” Oshie said. “It was weird. I’m not that cool.”
Oshie seems appreciative of the attention, but he has also tried to steer the conversation back to his team. He asked reporters to remember that goalie Jonathan Quick played an integral role in that shootout as well. And he gave a neat answer to someone’s suggestion that he has become an American hero.
“The real heroes are wearing camo,” he said, referring to the U.S. military.
“The sacrifices they make are on a completely different scale than what we do,” Oshie said the next day.
That response and Oshie’s humility in the face of all this new attention doesn’t surprise David Backes, the former Spring Lake Park and Minnesota State Mankato standout who is Oshie’s teammate both with Team USA and the St. Louis Blues.
“He’s a great man who’s humble,” Backes said. “He doesn’t take anything for granted, and we see a lot of that in his performance here.”
Oshie put his array of moves on display in his six shootout attempts against Russia. He scored on four, including the winner in the eighth round.
“It was unbelievable,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “You’re not going to see something like that ever again.”
Teammates watched in awe again as Oshie worked on his slick shootout moves at the end of practice Tuesday. He was one of the last players off the ice as he kept attempting a trick shot in which he tried to flip a puck into an igloo cooler from a distance.
“It’s pretty much all luck,” he said. “It’s almost impossible.”