oshie 1k feature MV

Last Saturday night in Vancouver was a special night in the annals of Capitals history. Washington right wing T.J. Oshie skated in his 1,000th NHL game, becoming the 390th player in NHL history to achieve the feat. Oshie is the 161st player in League history to score 300 goals and play in 1,000 games, and he is the 97th player to score 300 goals, play in 1,000 games and win a Stanley Cup.

Oshie is the fifth member of Washington’s 2017-18 Stanley Cup championship team to reach the 1,000-game plateau, and he is the 10th member of his 2005 NHL Draft class to do so. Prior to Sunday afternoon’s home game against Winnipeg, the Capitals will honor and celebrate Oshie’s achievement and his career.

Over Oshie’s nine years in D.C., he has thoroughly endeared himself to the Caps’ fan base and to his teammates as well; in the wake of the game in Vancouver last weekend, they were every bit as thrilled for their venerable teammate reaching that milestone as he was himself.

What’s most remarkable about Oshie’s achievement is the drive and perseverance he has displayed along the way. Over the course of his 16-year NHL career, Oshie has missed the equivalent of nearly three full seasons because of injury. More than half of those games missed have been in the last three seasons, including the current one.

Even on the night that Oshie played in the 1,000th game of his NHL career in Vancouver, there was some doubt throughout the day as to whether he would be able to suit up. Saturday morning at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, an ailing Oshie left the morning skate early, and before all of his teammates were off the ice, he was dressed in civilian clothes and headed elsewhere (for treatment, as it turns out).

During pregame warmups hours later, Oshie gave the word that he was good to play. As always, he put the team first in making that determination.

“With a little scare this morning,” he recounted after game 1,000, “I was fortunate enough that there was someone in town here that I worked with a year ago, and was able to see them, and get me right. It was truly a game-time decision, up to the end of warmups.

“Obviously, it’s a special night and you want to play, and not make all the Tweets and congratulations and all that for nothing, and to postpone it. But I also didn’t want to make the team shorthanded; that would be the worst thing, if I started and couldn’t finish. Once I was ready and knew I was ready, it was ‘go’ time.

“I really appreciate the ovation from the Vancouver fans here, and the Canucks’ players. They all congratulated me on the ice. It was a real class act. Sometimes, it’s hard to cheer for the opponent. But I really appreciate it.”

Washington defeated the Canucks that night by a 2-1 count, vanquishing one of the top teams in the League. Oshie, one of the League’s best puck hounds, won the puck scrum that started the scoring play that led to Alex Ovechkin’s game-winning goal that night. In the locker room after the game, Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery presented Oshie with the game puck.

“You guys laid it on the line tonight, in true 77 fashion, for that guy right there, T.J. Oshie,” said the Caps’ bench boss, embracing the veteran winger and handing him the puck.

Teammates exhorted Oshie to make a speech.

“Oh boy,” he started, then paused. “I really don’t want to get emotional here, but there was a moment this season where I thought maybe this day wouldn’t really come. And I had guys at one point tell me they’d strap me to their backs and carry me onto the ice to get to a thousand.

“I love you guys for that, I love going to work with you every day. It’s been an absolute pleasure, I love you guys.”

That’s very much a two-way street, as you’ll see. Oshie’s relentless positivity, his indefatigable spirit, his unremitting drive and his unique ability to lift all boats has endeared him to teammates everywhere he has played.

Just under nine years ago, Oshie made the only move he has made during the course of his NHL career. On July 2, 2015, the Caps acquired Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in a deal that sent winger Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the Blues. When the deal was made, the Caps and Blues had both been among the League’s most successful teams over the previous decade, but neither could get over the hump in the playoffs. Washington was looking for a fit to ride shotgun on its top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“We had been looking for a right wing to play with Ovi and Nick,” remembers Caps’ president of hockey operations and general manager Brian MacLellan. “That was our goal, whether by trade or free agency. We talked to St. Louis at the draft about trading for Oshie. And we had a couple of conversations back and forth, made a couple of offers.

“It didn’t materialize at the draft floor, so we thought it was over, and we weren’t going to be able to do that. We ended up getting Justin Williams in free agency to fill that hole. And then the next day, St. Louis re-engages with us, and then we accomplish the deal. So it was funny in that we thought we lost Oshie, or we couldn’t get him, and we grabbed Justin Williams to fill that spot. And then we ended up getting Oshie, which was a couple of good gets.”

It didn’t take very long for his teammates to warm up to him, either.

“With Osh, we made that trade, and when I heard about it, I was like, ‘Oh wow, that was a big trade,’” says Caps’ center Nicklas Backstrom. “But even though we played against each other for a little bit, it was Western Conference versus Eastern Conference. And you don’t always pay as much attention to those teams out west. You knew what kind of player he was, and then you definitely knew in 2014 with the shootout there [in the Olympics], a famous thing.

“He was an awesome dude, from the start. You got to know him pretty quick; he brings a lot of energy and he is always smiling. Great locker room guy, great player on the ice, too. He is just a great two-way player. He talked a lot about his previous years and how that was, and how different it is over here, and how happy he was to be a Capital, which is what you want to hear from players when they come here. He has basically dedicated his whole life to the game, like the rest of the core group that won the championship here. That’s what we did. We were dedicated.”

Caps’ defenseman John Carlson – also on the cusp of crossing the 1,000-game threshold – knew Oshie before his arrival in Washington; the two were teammates on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team.

“We didn’t see [the Blues] a heck of a lot,” says Carlson. “But I obviously knew him; we played in the Olympics together. So I had some sense of who he was in hockey, but playing against him, I don’t think his potential was unlocked in St. Louis as much as it was once he got here. I also think that one of his biggest assets is how he can do everything very well. He’s a very effective player – defensively, offensively, special teams. And he can bring a physical presence. He is an energy guy with skill, and you don’t have many of those in the League.

“You didn’t know what you were getting, in a good way. He is a smart guy, and he knows the game, and he knows what the team needs at a given time. He is always morphing into whatever the game calls for. He reads the situations well, he reads the score, the flow, the feeling. And he’s on the bench with us too, so he knows what we’re feeling like and what the morale is like. Do we need to settle down? Do we need to be mature? Do we need to go gangbusters? It’s all part of the process.”

Now the general manager of the Nashville Predators, Barry Trotz was the Caps’ bench boss when Oshie arrived on the scene. He had coached plenty against Oshie during his St. Louis days, and was happy to have him on his side.

“Obviously, he is a very skilled player and very competitive,” said Trotz ahead of the 2015-16 season. “I think he is going to be a productive player for us, and he brings a lot of those qualities that you like. You like the relentless sort of game that he brings and the high execution on certain plays. His skill level and his compete level is very high. He brings energy to the room every day and on the bench, and that’s what you’re looking for. That’s a lot of good qualities to bring to the table.”

While that move had a large impact on Oshie’s career – and on the careers of his teammates in Washington – it was a move made much earlier in his life that’s most responsible for his distinguished NHL career.

Oshie was born in Everett, Washington in 1986, but early in his adolescence, he moved from Washington to Minnesota, where his father’s side of the family had some deep hockey roots. That move made an instant impact on young T.J., who was already a dyed-in-the-wool rink rat by that point in his life.

“I get to Minnesota, and you see the culture, and the fact that you don’t have to pay for ice, ever,” recalls Oshie. “For me, it was like moving from a place where it was very difficult to play hockey, to going to like the Disneyland or Disneyworld of hockey, and then you just live there. You’re there all the time, and every ride is free, and you go to the front of the line. It was amazing.”

Oshie took full advantage of his new environment, starring at Warroad High School and then the University of North Dakota. He was the top high school scorer in the state of Minnesota in his senior season of 2004-05, putting up 38 goals and 100 points in 31 games. He was also an all-conference football player and a medalist on his high school golf team during his three years at Warroad High.

From his childhood until now, Oshie has been and is all about playing and competing. He has never had much interest in watching sports on TV, and upon graduating from Warroad nearly 20 years ago, he had no idea what he was in for as he embarked upon a pro career in hockey.

“You and probably a lot of other people are going to think this is pretty crazy,” Oshie told me several years ago. “But I was so ‘all-sport’ oriented that I had never heard of the [NHL Draft] combine, and when I got invited to it, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t even really know necessarily what the draft meant, and I wasn’t watching the draft [on draft day]. I couldn’t tell you when the draft normally was. I think I was laying on the floor at my friend’s house watching MTV and he was watching the draft and yelled that I got drafted.

“I had never seen the draft and barely knew what it meant. I wasn’t even with my family. I was at my buddy’s house about six hours away from my hometown.

“We were just hanging out, and I went golfing that day afterwards. Unfortunately – or fortunately, I guess – I was on the phone a lot during the round. I kind of scrambled to see who on the Blues I knew and who the coach was. Everyone on the phone and on the radio was asking me what was going on and if I was excited and all that. It was a crazy situation for me.”

And Oshie’s attendance at the NHL’s annual draft combine in the spring of 2005 was equally crazy.

“I had my graduation party from high school the night before,” says Oshie, “and I went right from there to the airport at like 4 a.m. It was kind of a wild day.

“I didn’t really start working out until I got to college. So to go through all the testing was different. I had never done a bike program or ridden a bike before. I was one of the last guys to do it; I was second-to-last.

“After the Vo2 [test] I sat in the chair and passed out and I was sleeping. I hadn’t slept the night before I did it, because my flight was at 4 a.m. I woke up and there were no scouts, no media, no nothing. People were putting all the machines away. It was just me in this empty ballroom. I went upstairs, had a cold bath, fell asleep in the bath and then went back to my interviews and flew out that night.”

It was around that time that Oshie discovered he would need some outside advice to navigate this brave new world he had somewhat unwittingly entered.

“I didn’t even have a financial advisor,” says Oshie. “Someone, a family friend, told me that they thought I was going to go late in the second or early in the third round. I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t watch hockey growing up. I knew the superstars, but that was about it.”

When he reached the 1,000-game mark in Vancouver this past weekend, Oshie became the 10th – and quite likely, the last – member of his 2005 draft class to reach that hallowed milestone. Each of the nine members of the ’05 class that reached a thousand games did so prior to this season. And most of the rest of the members of Oshie’s draft class have retired from the game or are no longer playing in the NHL. The few who are still chugging along behind him are unlikely to last long enough to join him in that distinction.

On the night that Oshie played career game No. 999 – on March 14 in Seattle – the Kraken honored Jordan Eberle for his 1,000th game in the League. Eberle was drafted three years after Oshie, and he played a smattering of games – 56 of them – in the minors before ascending to the NHL as a full-timer.

What took Oshie so long? In a nutshell, it’s the way he plays the game. It’s his competitiveness, his drive, his desire – his utter unwillingness to play the game at anything less than full bore. He only plays the game at one speed, full speed. Minutes after Saturday’s game in Vancouver, teammate Tom Wilson summed it up succinctly: “He’s a true warrior; he hasn’t taken a shift off in his entire career.”

A week or so earlier, at the Caps’ MedStar Capitals Iceplex practice facility, Wilson elaborated on what makes Oshie such a warrior.

“He has obviously had some injury trouble these last couple of years,” says Wilson. “And then he comes back, and he’s out there just throwing his body into guys, finishing checks and putting his body in harm’s way. And everybody is like, ‘Hey Osh, you just got back. Maybe take it easy.’ But he doesn’t have any of that DNA in his body; he just has to go out there and give it everything he has.

“As a teammate, and as a group, there are so few people like that, who are willing to give everything to win, to give everything to the team, to give everything to be at their best. You can just feel it, and it’s contagious. It’s something that I’ve tried to build off, to help him in any way that I can, to bring energy to the group. That’s something that I’ve learned from him, just the day in, day out energy, the positivity, and making everybody around you a better person. It’s been a really fun ride to play with Osh and to compete with him, and hopefully we can do it for a bunch of games to come.”

Oshie spent three seasons at UND, so while he never played in the minors, he didn’t debut in the NHL until he was 21 years old, and close to 22. Now in his 16th season in the League, Oshie has played all of his team’s games just once; in the pandemic-abbreviated season of 2019-20, he skated in all 69 of Washington’s games.

In five of his 16 seasons – including each of the last three – he has missed 24 or more games. Over the course of his career, he has missed 225 games, the equivalent of nearly three full seasons. In addition to multiple absences from the lineup for upper and lower body injuries, Oshie has also missed time because of an appendectomy, an ankle injury, a wrist ailment, bruised ribs, a foot injury, illness and personal reasons. Oh, and a fractured clavicle in the playoffs. We counted a total of 31 unique absences from the lineup, adding up to those 225 games missed since his career began in 2008-09.

Oshie missed 97 games in his seven seasons with St. Louis, and he has missed 128 games during his nine seasons in D.C. But with Oshie – more so than most players in the League – numbers can’t possibly tell the whole story. That’s best left to those who’ve played with him over the years.

“With Osh, where do you start?” says longtime teammate and former Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby. “First of all, I think it’s a miracle that he has played a thousand games because of the way that he plays. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy that – no matter the circumstances – he is going at 100 percent at all times, and it doesn’t matter what it does to his body, as long as it helps the team. And that’s just incredible, and that’s how he lives.

“And off the ice, the thing with Osh is that I don’t think there is a teammate that he has had that he hasn’t had a positive influence on. You can’t really say that about everyone. His attitude and his joy at just being at the rink is pretty infectious. Another of his good qualities too, is that he has such a good self-deprecating humor. And especially young guys see that, and they see that this guy isn’t taking himself too seriously, and he is still going out and doing absolutely everything possible to win. That relaxes everyone, puts everyone at ease and comfortable with the team. He creates a comfort to be his teammate that no one else can really do.”

Ovechkin is one of a few Caps who have memories of playing against Oshie before he got to D.C. in the summer of 2015.

“Obviously, I have bad memories of when he beat us in the shootout in the Olympic Games,” says Ovechkin, referring to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. “But I was kind of surprised when we make a trade, and he came to the Caps. And I knew the skill he would bring would be tremendous, but I didn’t know him as a person, and I didn’t know how he was going to react in the locker room.

“But I’ve never seen a guy like him. He’s always smiling, always making a joke, and makes funny a lot of different categories. And I think he is honest. And he cares about the boys and he cares about the organization a lot. He is a warrior. He gives you everything he has out there. And he is so good with the puck; he is basically like Backy out there. He can make a sauce pass, and you can see what he can do with the puck. He can dangle; how many times do you see him dangle guys 1-on-1 and then find someone else [with a pass]? Skill wise, he is one of the top guys.”

Skill wise, heart wise, work ethic wise, leadership wise, Oshie is one of the top guys in many ways.

“With Osh, truly he loves to play the game,” says Caps’ center Nic Dowd. “We all have those days where you’re really tired, and maybe it’s been a long day with the family or a long day away from the rink. And maybe you’re grumpy or maybe hockey just isn’t going well, but I truly think he is just an individual that just really enjoys playing. He just enjoys hockey, and he has enjoyed it since he was a little kid.

“The thing that sticks out about him for me is that it’s hard not to follow someone who is willing to do all the shitty things and still have a lot of success. The difference between him and a lot of elite players in the NHL is that he is more than happy to block shots, back track, hit somebody – and to make all that an ‘A’ part of his game, along with all the talents that he has with the puck and on the power play, shooting the puck in the slot. Those are things that are all sexy, and people that don’t watch the game a ton appreciate about Osh.

“But the guys that are in the room with him, the coaching staff, management, and people around the League, they see Osh as an all-around hockey player who is highly, highly skilled, and really good on the power play. He is willing to do all the things that some high-end players aren’t willing to do for 82 games. I mean, they might do it in the playoffs because it’s the playoffs. But Osh is willing to do those things throughout the season, and it’s because he enjoys doing them, and because it’s fun. It’s fun to do things, it’s fun to hit people, it’s fun to block shots. Yeah, it’s fun to score goals, but there’s a certain rush that come with doing the hard, little things and getting complimented on them by your teammates, because not everybody wants to do them, and not everybody does them.”

“He’d probably tell you that since he was a young kid, he eats, sleeps, and he plays hockey,” says Wilson. “His life has been about hockey. He is a guy that loves the game, and he loves everything about it. He loves coming to the rink and he loves the boys. And he’s obviously got a beautiful family and he has a great life for himself that he has shaped out for himself away from the rink, but when he comes to the rink, you can tell he is just like a kid in a candy shop. He just loves being here, and those kinds of guys find a way to stick around and they find ways to adapt. They’re so smart and they know the game so well, and he brings so many intangibles to the table for us every night – whether it’s power play, whether it’s physicality, whether it’s compete, whether it’s leadership, whether it’s in the dressing room.

“This year, he’s played some games and he has missed a few weeks. But those games where he is around, you just feel the difference. You feel the energy and just the drive that he brings to the group. He is the kind of guy that you can’t really replicate.”

If only you could. With Oshie in its lineup over the years, Washington owns a 332-166-60 record (.649 points percentage) and without him, it is 66-47-15 (.574).

“The guys who play a long time, they seem to have that extra drive,” says Carlson. “And the ability too, obviously. In this game, you get knocked down so much. And it’s about how you respond, and your mental space, and how you attack recoveries. He is just one of those guys who is going to do whatever it takes, whether that’s when he is on the ice, or whether he gets knocked out of the lineup with a broken something, or whatever it is. He is going to attack that rehab just like he would on the ice, and that’s a testament to him. We’ve talked about it over the years, how difficult it is for guys to come back, and he has certainly had a lot of those instances.”

Oshie has also been a welcoming teammate over the years, and he is a guy whose influence in the room and on the organization is likely to be felt for years after he has retired.

“I go back to when I signed here,” says Caps’ goalie Charlie Lindgren. “He was one of the first guys that reached out to me, and I hadn’t even really met him before. Obviously, the hockey world is really small, especially in Minnesota, but I had never really been around him in Minnesota. When I signed with Washington, I got a text from a random number, and it was T.J., welcoming me to the D.C. area.

“When you’ve got a guy like T.J. Oshie – a true leader and one of the greatest competitors in the League – sending you a text, it’s a very welcoming feeling. And then I remember coming here and talking to Woody [equipment assistant Craig Leydig], who has been here for I don’t know how long, maybe 40 years, and he told me that Osh is a top-three guy of his, all-time, just his personality; he never has a bad day, and he is always so happy, and he is such a great teammate. And man, he was spot on about all of that. He is certainly one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. He is so competitive, too.

“When the team needs a spark, it’s always T.J. Oshie that goes out and makes that spark. He is such a 100 percent effort guy on every single shift, and I just love it. And now he’s played 1,000 games, and I’m extremely happy for him. That doesn’t come easy. He has had a bunch of bumps and bruises throughout his career, just from the way he plays. But he certainly shows his resiliency, and I’m super happy for his family, and very proud of him. It’s awesome. Like I said, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, and such a fun player to have on the ice as well.”

With Washington’s recent infusion of youth into its lineup, having Oshie around as a living, breathing example of what it takes to get prepare on a nightly basis, how to infuse a bench with some needed energy at critical points of a given game, or any number of other nuances of the game is a benefit to the organization and those up-and-coming players.

“I wish people on the outside could see what he has to do just to go on the ice to practice,” says Caps’ center Dylan Strome. “A guy that has that much drive and determination to want to be out there for his team, I think it’s pretty impressive. He is warming up for over an hour before each time we even step on the ice for a morning skate or a practice or whatever it may be, and it only ramps up for games. He’s dealt with injuries for a long time, and it sucks that he has to go through that. But at the same time, he exemplifies such passion and commitment to hockey, and that’s part of the reason why he brings our team into the fight, because of how much we see him go through on a day-to-day basis and how hard it is just for him to get on the ice. It’s an honor to play with him. He is an incredible player, and hopefully he’s got more left in the tank.”

When then-teenaged rookie Hendrix Lapierre scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game here on Oct. 13, 2021 against the New York Rangers, he and Oshie had a moment together on the ice. In the process of scoring his first NHL goal – with a sublime primary assist from Oshie – Lapierre went careening into the back boards, and he wound up on his backside. An excited Oshie hustld behind the net, picked Lapierre up by the collar and hugged him tightly, as the rest of their teammates descended upon them to do the same.

“I knew it was his first one, and I was super excited,” said Oshie. “I just thought the celebration would have been better with him on his feet.”

“Playing with Osh is really easy; he sees the ice really well,” says Lapierre. “I knew when I called for the puck, that he was going to pass it to me, and I got lucky. I just put the puck at the net.

“It was just so fun. The crowd was incredible. For a first game, I don’t think I could have asked for a better one. And we got a great win, too, so it was really good.”

More than two years later, Oshie is still grinding and Lapierre is nearing the 50-game mark of his own NHL career.

“I think he is an extraordinary teammate, and an extraordinary human being,” says Lapierre. “He’s probably one of the best guys I’ve ever met. Whatever the situation is – if you’ve got to talk to him, if we need some energy on the bench or if there is something going on with the team – Osh will always be there, and everyone looks up to him. He is unreal. He deserved to get to one thousand, and it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of bumps and bruises and stuff like that. But we are all super, super happy that he got to that number. I know it means a lot to him, and to everyone around him. The best way I can put it is that he is a special human being, and we consider ourselves really lucky to have him here. He really helps us so much when he is in the lineup; he brings extra energy, he does the right things, and he prepares the right way.

“Osh has talked to me a bit about getting warmed up and stuff like that, and about taking care of your body at a young age. It’s one thing that he was saying is that if he could do it a little better, was maybe to warm up more when he was a little younger, and to get more treatment and stuff like that. And those words meant a lot to me, just being near 50 games. I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m getting my feet wet,’ but to do that another 20 times is something remarkable, and obviously I want to do it, too. And I’m going to work my ass off to get ready the right way and make that happen. But I think it’s been big for me – and for everyone – to see what he does to get ready to be on the ice with us every day. He has overcome a lot of things, but he is here now, and he has achieved this milestone. It’s really impressive.”

Lapierre is merely one of many who’ve been influenced by Oshie along the way.

“When I look at my career, it wouldn’t be fair to say one guy, but a handful of guys have had an impact on my career,” says Wilson. “And Osh is at the top of the list for what he does for his teammates, for how he carries himself, how he plays the game and just for his outlook on life. He is such a positive guy, and he is so much fun to have around. I think we’ve definitely built a positive bond in a relationship that is beyond hockey. He feels like a brother, and he has done a lot for me. He is a guy that you genuinely feel like he is always in your corner, he’s always pulling for you, and he always wants the best for his teammates.

“When he came to this organization, he made a lot of people around him better, myself included. He is a guy who doesn’t take a shift off, and he has put a lot of hard miles on his body. He just wants to win. He works his tail off every game, and he wants to be the best that he can be, and he wants the team to win at the end of the day. It’s been an honor to battle with a guy like that and to play every night with a guy like that, and I’m super happy for him. I know this means a lot to him. With how much he empties the tank every night, every shift, to get to a thousand is an amazing feat.”

Playing 1,000 NHL games is an amazing feat, for Oshie more than most. His road to get here has been bumpier and longer than most who’ve come before him, but you’d never know it in talking to him. Those of us who’ve had the pleasure of watching Oshie ply his trade on a night in, night out basis for nearly a decade now are also grateful and thankful for his presence, his enthusiasm, his honesty and his relentless positivity on and off the ice. Congratulations to T.J. Oshie and his family on an outstanding achievement.