HAZELWOOD, Mo. - Before he was a Blue, T.J. Oshie wore No. 7 and was instrumental in leading the North Dakota Fighting Sioux to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Meanwhile, Chris Hendrickson was enjoying every minute of it.
At the time, the Lakota, ND native was only seven or eight years old. Now he's 14 and not much has changed. Hockey is still his favorite sport, he still roots for North Dakota and his favorite color is Sioux green.
His favorite player? It's still Oshie.
"We go to Sioux hockey games every year, so he’s been watching several players, but T.J. always stood out," said Denise Johnson, Hendrickson's mom. "When he first started watching him, he always said ‘pay attention to that No. 7.’ He was so quick and (good) at what he was doing, he was always fun to watch."
For the most part, Hendrickson is a normal kid that enjoys watching sports. When he was two years old, though, doctors diagnosed him with Morquio A Syndrome, an inherited medical disorder in which his body's cells are unable to break down glycosaminoglycan molecules (GAGs). When GAGs aren’t broken down and removed as waste, they deform the cells and cause all sorts of issues. In Hendrickson's case, his bones, eyes and heart valves are affected.
It’s a debilitating condition that's left him standing barely three feet tall. He shuffles a bit when he walks because his bones aren't strong enough, but other than that, he doesn't let anything slow him down.
"He's very brave. He just takes everything as it comes. Not a whole lot phases him," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter that he's a different size or anything. To his friends, he's just Chris."
Several years ago, Make-A-Wish learned of his condition and got involved to grant him a once-in-a-lifetime wish. Most kids choose DisneyWorld or a similar theme park, but that wouldn't work because Hendrickson is too short for most of today's roller coasters. Other kids choose to meet their favorite movie stars or want to be Batman or Superman for a day, but that didn't really suit him, either.
Eventually, he figured out the perfect wish - to shoot a few pucks with Oshie.
Make-A-Wish reached out to the Blues, who invited him and his family to St. Louis. On Monday, Hendrickson watched the team practice with Louie at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall. Afterwards, Oshie met him in the locker room and cut down one of his sticks to the perfect size so they could go on the ice and try to rip shots off the goal post.
"It was great to see Chris and his entire family just have a day to live in the moment and not worry about him being sick or tired," said Amanda Thorne, who works as a wish coordinator for Make-A-Wish. "It’s all about him enjoying the moment and having his wish come true. When you idolize someone like Chris has idolized T.J., and then have (that person) live up to that expectation, there are no words (to describe it). T.J. was so genuine. It was great to see."
After sharing some ice time together, Oshie took Hendrickson and his family to lunch, then gave them some passes to play arcade games at Dave & Busters. The next morning, Hendrickson and his brothers played some two-on-two hockey with Oshie, watched the team's morning skate and then attended the game against the Canadiens at Scottrade Center.
Oshie scored a goal and added an assist, giving Hendrickson quite a story to tell when he gets home.
"We had some good talk about being in North Dakota, where he's from and what he likes to do. We talked the Sioux a little bit, the Blues - it's been a good 24 hours," said Oshie. "We complain about having a meeting go too long, or we have to get to the rink too early, but seeing him and the good attitude he has really puts things into perspective. It makes us appreciate what we have a lot more."
After Tuesday's game, Oshie presented Hendrickson with his game-worn jersey and the puck he scored with. The jersey was signed, too.
"I had fun hanging out and getting to know you," Oshie told his new buddy. "You're an inspiration and I want you to stay positive."
For Oshie, who became a dad in April, moments like these are more rewarding than any goal or shootout could ever be.
"It was always important to me to see kids and try to put smiles on their faces," Oshie said. "And when you have your own (child), it seems like that doubles or triples. I can just be walking around the street and see a little girl and it makes me think of (my daughter) Lyla. It's cool, and it's a different experience I don't think you can explain until you have kids.
"Just to see a kid smile brightens my day."