The United States bench looks on in the first period against Finland during the men's ice hockey bronze-medal game at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Feb. 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
ST. LOUIS -- It had been more than three weeks since T.J. Oshie enjoyed the comfort of his own bed, and the homecoming was a welcome change.
Oshie and three St. Louis Blues teammates who also competed for Team USA at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February played their first home game March 4 since leaving for the Games on Feb. 9. He grabbed two naps and was in bed before 10 p.m., rarities for the high-energy center, the day before St. Louis played host to Tampa Bay.
So, how did the excitement of scoring the game-winning goal in a shootout against Russia or the rush of playing in the Olympic Winter Games change his perspective for the remainder of the NHL season?
“I’m the same player who went over there,” he said. “I had a really good experience. I played with some really good players. Now, back here, trying to make a run for the playoffs.”
Oshie had one goal and three assists in six games in Sochi. He was joined by teammates David Backes (three goals, one assist), defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (three assists) and goalie Ryan Miller, who was traded to St. Louis from Buffalo following the Winter Games. Miller, the MVP of the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament, when Team USA won a silver medal, backed up Jonathan Quick in Sochi and played in just one game, stopping 17 of the 18 shots he faced against Slovenia in the final preliminary game.
Miller said he hasn’t had much time to catch his breath since leaving Sochi following Team USA’s loss to Finland in the bronze-medal game. He had a home game with the Sabres prior to the trade to the Blues where he was reunited with his three Olympic teammates plus Jordan Leopold and Derek Roy, who once played with Miller in Buffalo.
While having the familiar faces has helped, Sochi isn’t so far in the rear-view mirror that it doesn’t still weigh on Miller.
“What I was doing there was just trying to stay in the best shape as possible and try to prepare (to play),” he said. “That focus from there, flying back and playing a game and then being pulled out of a game and getting traded, it has been a lot.
“It’s added a little bit of stress to everything, but it’s good kind of stress. It’s an exciting kind of thing. It’s something where once I can get settled and get everything dialed in around here, hopefully my energy level will be really high and match guys like T.J. Oshie and some of these guys who seem like they have energy for days.”
Oshie didn’t have to adjust to a new team like Miller did, but the Blues were on the road for three games before getting back to St. Louis. That added another week away from home and familiar faces.
“It’s been a wild month, pretty crazy, and just to get home to our family was the best part,” he said. “Then getting in front of these fans, they pump us up when things aren’t going well.”
Things didn’t go as well as Team USA wanted at the Games. After a thrilling shootout win against hosts Russia in the preliminary round, Team USA struggled to maintain that energy later in the tournament. Following a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Canada in the semifinals, the Americans had their worst game of the tournament in a 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze-medal game.
While Oshie said he’s closed the door on the Games, Backes hasn’t been able to let go of the disappointment.
“You look at those last two games and you think (you’re) one win away and we’d have some hardware to bring home,” he said. “Obviously, the loss to Canada in the semifinals is one you really want to take care of and you didn’t and that really stung. But then to not respond against a Finland team, you win that game you still bring home a bronze medal.
“Thinking of it now, I’d love to have a bronze medal around my neck to show for it. … That’s pretty sour, but that’s the reality of it. We’re going to have to come to terms with it and move forward and hopefully get a little bit bigger of a trophy here.”