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Oshie leads St. Louis contingent of U.S. candidates

by Todd Kimberley /
CALGARY -- The torch has been passed -- along with one Hull of a compliment.

The St. Louis Blues recently honored Brett Hull for his Hockey Hall of Fame induction, and the NHL's most prolific U.S.-born goal scorer immediately pointed to one T.J. Oshie -- a fellow American, and a sophomore Blues center -- as a rising star worth watching.

"He just reminds me of me when I was a kid," Hull, speaking about Oshie on Dec. 15, told the Belleville, Ill., News-Democrat. "(The ceremony) brought back a flood of memories of when I got traded here, walking into the old Arena and going: 'I'm going to show these guys what I've got.' That's the way he is."

To date, Oshie has 21 regular-season goals to Hull's 741. But the 5-11, 195-pounder from Mt. Vernon, Wash., is blown away by the pat on the back.

"I certainly wasn't expecting that," Oshie told during the Blues' stop in Calgary on Wednesday. "But it's an honor to be recognized by one of the greats like him."

Oshie, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, appears to be among the youth movement currently being identified and promoted by USA Hockey.

The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based national body invited Oshie and a pair of his St. Louis teammate -- right winger David Backes, 25, of Minneapolis, Minn., and defenseman Erik Johnson, 21, of Bloomington, Minn. -- to its 2010 Olympic orientation camp at Chicago last August.

Brian Burke, general manager of Team USA at Vancouver, has acknowledged a changing of the guard in advance of the 2010 Games, noting that several veteran players who were not invited to the orientation camp "have had their day in the sun."

"T.J. is tenacious," Backes, an Oshie linemate for the past month or so, told "I always call him the Energizer bunny -- when other guys run out of steam, he just keeps going. He's just got that drive.

"With his skating ability, and will to get the job done, he's always around the puck," added Backes. "He's fun to play with five-on-five. I kill penalties with him, and work the power play with him too. It's good to be around him.

"And once he outworks guys to get the puck back, he's got the hands and hockey sense to make something happen with the puck."

The No. 24 pick of the Blues in 2005, Oshie scored 14 goals and 39 points in 57 games last season, during his debut NHL campaign. Thus far in 2009-10, the former member of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux has seven goals among 19 points in 32 outings.

Wednesday night in Calgary, during a 2-1 shootout win against the Flames, Oshie was his usual self -- doling out three body checks, including one sinus-clearing hit on Mark Giordano; setting up Paul Kariya for a glorious scoring chance; and finishing off the Flames by beating Miikka Kiprusoff to the five-hole as the final marksman during the shootout.

Oshie admits he's thinking about the selection of the 23-man U.S. roster for the Vancouver Games. The announcement will come on Jan. 1 during the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic from Fenway Park in Boston.

"I'm a little nervous about it," he said. "I didn't really start getting nervous about it until recently, when I realized that there actually is a possibility that I can make the team.

"Right now, first focus is getting wins with St. Louis, and with wins come good play, and hopefully that leads to selection. Certainly that'd be an honor."

"Right now, first focus is getting wins with St. Louis, and with wins come good play, and hopefully that leads to selection. Certainly that'd be an honor"
-- T.J. Oshie

"All three of our guys are certainly candidates," said Blues coach Andy Murray. "Erik's game has continued to grow this season (after missing all of 2008-09 due to torn knee ligaments). Oshie's played pretty hard. Backes got off to a slow start, but of late he's been our best player."

Both Oshie and Backes represented the Stars and Stripes at the IIHF World Championships last spring in Switzerland.

Backes tallied 5 points and Oshie 3 in the nine-game tournament as the Americans lost the bronze-medal game to Sweden, 4-2.

"My fingers are crossed. I hope there's a role for me, one way or another, on that team," said Backes, who had 9 goals and 18 points through his first 36 games this season, his fourth in the NHL. "It'd be an honor to represent my country. We'll see what happens Jan. 1.

"Call us naïve, but we maybe don't have a fear of some of the other (countries)," added Backes. "This group of '84 birthdates and younger have had a lot of success in international tournaments against Russians and Canadians and Swedes and a lot of other teams that are maybe favored more than the Americans (at Vancouver).

"Young blood, young energy. We lack that experience factor, but it's a short tournament, and you can still create the right chemistry in a short period of time."
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