ST. LOUIS – T.J. Oshie’s biography lists one hometown, but in emotional attachment, he considers himself a native of two places.
He has his childhood home (Everett, Wash.) and his hockey home (Warroad, Minn.). Both are dear to him.
Oshie only lived in Warroad for three years, and he says he hasn’t been back in some time. But he isn’t sure where he would be today without that experience.
“I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey,” he said. “Maybe working somewhere.”
Warroad helped pave a path to his dream job, playing in the NHL. He has become a fan favorite for the St. Louis Blues and last February, he achieved overnight celebrity at the Sochi Olympics after his one-man shootout display against Russia.
He has experienced other blessings, none more meaningful than the birth of his daughter, Lyla, now 13 months old.
Life is good, it seems, though Oshie has endured a few personal challenges within that same time frame. He lost two family members to cancer and learned that his father, Timothy, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 49.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, for sure,” Oshie said. “I’m pretty good at just focusing on one thing at a time. Right now all the focus is right here.”
Right here, as in helping his team avoid falling into a deep hole after losing to the Wild in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The Blues suffered first-round exits the previous two postseasons, and another loss in Game 2 would create suffocating tension around the team.
“They deserved to win Game 1,” Oshie said, “and a new chapter [Saturday].”
Oshie’s move from Washington to Minnesota years ago became an important chapter in his own life.
His dad was born in Warroad, a cousin of hockey legend Henry Boucha, and the family visited him on vacation several times over the years. They always stayed with Boucha and during one particular trip, 10-year-old T.J. fell hard for a place that loved hockey as much as he did.
“He had a rink in his back yard,” he said of Boucha’s home. “We must have been out there for 10 hours a day at least.”
Timothy got divorced a few years later and moved home to Warroad so that T.J. could focus on his hockey career while his mother and two younger siblings stayed behind.
Oshie played in three state tournaments for Warroad, won two championships and loved every minute of it.
“It was the biggest thing in the world for us,” he said. “You felt like you won the Stanley Cup. It’s so much fun. You either come out of your shell there, or you go into one.”
Oshie grew close to his dad during that time. He always called him “Coach,” though T.J. says he’s started referring to him more as “Dad” lately.
They lived with Boucha for a few months before finding a small home for themselves. Oshie also was surrounded by a large extended family with Ojibwe ancestry.
“I have fourth cousins that are probably closer than most people’s first cousins,” he said.
Family members began to notice something about Timothy a few years ago. He repeated stories in conversations. He started to forget things. Sometimes he struggled to finish thoughts.
T.J. noticed it, too. Timothy chalked it up to getting older, but deep down, he knew differently. “I think in the back of my mind I knew something was wrong,” he said.
The tipping point came after he took his youngest daughter to a college hockey game in North Dakota. Timothy became disoriented and somehow ended up at a restaurant late at night by himself with a dead battery in his cell phone.
“It was almost like a trance,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, what the heck just happened.’ That’s when my family knew something was wrong.”
T.J. arranged for his dad to see a specialist in St. Louis. Tests revealed a sobering diagnosis, Alzheimer’s, a disease that’s affected other members of his family. Timothy has responded favorably to medication and said new research provides him a “breath of hope.”
“I’ve got four beautiful children,” he said. “I don’t want to leave them.”
He has moved back to Washington to be near his large family, but he makes frequent trips to St. Louis.
“When he’s here I try and keep him in the house,” T.J. said, smiling. “He knows everyone at the rink and everyone knows him.”
Timothy didn’t make the trip to Russia to watch his son in the Olympics, an experience that brought Oshie viral attention after he scored on four of his six shootout attempts in a dramatic victory against Russia.
His victory lap included a congratulatory tweet from President Obama and a round of national interviews.
“I don’t know if I liked that much attention,” Oshie said. “It was an amazing experience and such a cool way to end a game. I didn’t realize the impact that it had at the time.”
His dad watched the game on TV with his own mom and sister. Sadly, Timothy lost both of them late last year. His mom died of cancer in August and his sister died of the disease in December.
“It’s been a lot of adversity,” Timothy said. “But my dad said to always see the glass half-full.”
His son shares that same outlook.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “But we’re all sticking together.”