SOCHI, Russia — T.J. Oshie returned to his room in the Olympic Village about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, and the first thing he did was take a shower. It wasn’t to wash off the sweat from the United States’ epic 3-2 victory over Russia. It was to wash off the makeup.
Oshie was embarrassed by the attention he was getting for going 4-for-6 in the shootout – for having the guts and skill to skate alone in the middle of that raucous arena, to do it again and again and again and again and again, to beat Russia in Russia with Vladimir Putin looking down on him.
His teammates had been teasing him already. Can you imagine if they knew NBC had been powdering his nose for TV interviews?
“He’s like, ‘I think they’re blowing this a little out of proportion,’ ” said David Backes, his roommate. “He jumped right into the shower. I don’t think he wanted anyone to see it.”
This is how stars are born. This is what the Olympics can do.
The game was only a prelim. But it was USA vs. Russia. Every meeting recalls memories of the “Miracle on Ice.” And not only did the level of play match the hype for three periods and an overtime, the eight-round shootout was made-for-TV drama.
[Watch: Who is T.J. Oshie?]
Oshie was the star of the show. So he went through the Olympic media machine usually reserved for medal winners. He was even compared to the captain of the 1980 team who scored the winning goal in the semifinals against the Soviets.
“He’s the new Mike Eruzione, right?” cracked defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father, Bob, played on the 1980 team. “Now he can talk about that shootout for the next 30 years. We’re giving him a hard time. I even told my dad that. He’s like, ‘Yeah, we can finally quit talking about that for a while.’ ”
[Photo gallery: Just another regular guy off the ice]
The funny part is, no one wanted to talk to T.J. Oshie before this. He was a good player for the St. Louis Blues, but not a great one. He was a member of Team USA, but a fourth-liner. After the Americans’ 7-1 victory over Slovakia on Thursday, he walked right through the mixed zone, the area where reporters wait alongside a barrier and grab players for interviews as they go by. He wasn’t stopped. When he survived the gauntlet unscathed, he put up his hands in victory.
After the game Saturday, he was stopped several times, of course. He was called an American hero, which made him uncomfortable. He said the real American heroes were “wearing camo,” and he meant it. He has grandparents who were in the military. He has a cousin, a close friend.
“When I heard the word ‘hero,’ it didn’t really seem like that’s what I am, what hockey players are,” Oshie said. “Those guys sacrifice a lot more than a couple hours in the gym and practice every day. Those guys sacrifice their lives.”
When he finally got back to the dressing room, the teasing started. His teammates know he has received a tweet from President Barack Obama: “Congrats to T.J. Oshie and the U.S. men’s hockey team on a huge win! Never stop believing in miracles.” They know his Twitter followers have gone from about 88,000 to more than 217,000. They know what happens to athletes on Twitter.
“Obviously there’s a little grief when the White House is tweeting you,” Backes said. “Who knows what else is sent his way?”
Captain Zach Parise has come up with a new nickname. Eruzioshie? T.J. Sochi? Oshie won’t say. He wants Parise to stop it. If it leaks into the media, good luck.
USA Hockey officials whisked Oshie to the Main Media Center, a massive complex in which the media of the world is based during the Olympics. Oshie visited NBC. He did a live hit with Dan Patrick. He taped one with Al Michaels.
Michaels is the man who made the call in 1980: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” But Oshie was born in 1986. He played high school football back in Minnesota – “I was terrible,” he said – and he plays fantasy football now. He knows Michaels from “Monday Night Football,” and that’s why he was thrilled to meet him and Cris Collinsworth.
“I don’t really remember much of the talks that we had,” Oshie said. “I was shaking a little bit.”
[Related: Jonathan Toews says Oshie 'put on a show' in shootout]
Oshie said he was calm when he got back to the village. But then he took his shower, and then he called his family. “That kind of got the heart going,” he said.
His fiancee, Lauren Cosgrove, is 33 weeks pregnant and back in St. Louis. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he told her about the interviews, about how they were surreal, about how he was going to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and go to bed.
Sleep was easier said than done, though. “Didn’t work too well,” Oshie said. He listened to some music. The last time he looked at his phone, it was 12:30 a.m.
He had another game in 14 hours.
After the shootout against Russia, coach Dan Bylsma jokingly reminded Oshie: “You’re going to have to play again tomorrow.” He wouldn’t be able to go out on that high. He needed to refocus quickly. But playing again right away might have helped. Oshie woke up and went through the same routine, and he said he stopped shaking when he got to the rink. His mind was on Slovenia, not Russia.
Oshie didn’t score Sunday, and there was no shootout. But he drew a penalty, and he had an assist. His line had one of the best shifts of the Americans’ 5-1 victory. If this was the first day of the rest of his life, Bylsma said it was “not bad.” Bylsma said Oshie responded with all his energy, speed and skill.
“He’s back at work doing all the dirty things today,” Backes said. “He’s not turning into Prince Charming out there by any means.”
No, but he sure didn't walk right through the mixed zone this time, and the whirlwind isn’t over yet. The team has the day off on Monday, and media requests have poured in. The “Today” show wants him. “Good Morning America” wants him. CNN wants him.
That’s a lot of makeup.
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