Since being named to Team USA for the 2006 World Junior Championships on December 5th, T.J. Oshie’s focus has been to return the United States to a gold medal finish at the tournament, despite having his 19th birthday just two days before Christmas.
Trying to keep the knowledge of his event from his new teammates wasn’t well received by them, however.
“I didn’t really want to get our focus off the hockey and we had a game a couple days after, and I kind of kept it quiet,” recalled Oshie. “It got out the next day, and they all got at me for not telling them.”
Heading into the tournament, the hype surrounding the American team has been unavoidable. Pegged by the media as heavy favorites to take home gold, Team USA boasts nine former first round draft selections including Oshie, as well as two projected top five selections in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
This Mt. Vernon, WA native, however, tries to ignore the talk altogether.
“I don’t really like to get into that, what other people are saying about us,” he said. “It can make you think differently about some things and I don’t really like to get into that, just play my game.”
Instead, Oshie is thinking only of gold, something that the United States captured when they upended Canada in 2004.
With the tournament underway and an impressive 11-2 defeat of Norway in their first game, Oshie and the Americans are doing nothing on the ice to deter the talk of a potential return to a top finish. He is more than content at just getting the tournament underway and calm the build-up that he’s faced during the last 21 days.
“It’s nice to get the jitters out right away,” admitted the 5’10 170lb forward, who has 21 points in 20 games, including three game-winning goals, as a freshman with the University of North Dakota this season.
The Americans outshot Norway by a large margin, 55-19, and lead the game from the 2:19 mark on.
Oshie himself opened scoring on the tournament for the Americans, converting a face-off win into a goal by stepping around a Norwegian defender and depositing the puck behind goaltender Ruben Smith.
“We were on a four-on-four, which means they were lined up differently than they normally are,” he described. “I thought I’d go towards the net instead of winning to the back in the face-off and (I) just kind of threw it to the net and it went in.”
The Americans weren’t without their challenges in the game, though. Team USA took seven penalties in the first period alone, showing difficulty adjusting to the IIHF rulebook. Although the team finished the final two periods with another seven infractions, Oshie admitted the club wasn’t ready for the sensitive refereeing.
“I think they were consistent with their calls,” he offered. “I think we just need to adjust to it right away. We’re not used to the calls being that tight, (but) I adjusted to it as the game went.”
With that adjustment underway, Oshie only sees one further obstacle for the American team, one that has to be controlled internally.
Oshie sees that while each player comes from a club where they’re counted on to be a go-to guy, egos might collide as teammates are expected to take on lesser roles.
“I think one problem with that could be that guys don’t want to accept their roles,” he said. “Maybe they think they should be somewhere else, but I think we’re adapting to that very well.”
Oshie himself says he’s quickly adapted to his role. Not counted on to provide mounds of offense, the St. Louis Blues prospect realizes how important his contributions will be on an energy line.
“There are a lot of skilled players,” he described. “Right now, my role is just to get in there and create havoc and keep the puck in their zone. With so many skilled players you can’t all be goal scorers.”
It’ll be attitudes such as Oshie’s that will bring to fruition the predictions and the crowning of the Americans once again as junior hockey’s greatest nation.
Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.