Although Team USA finished short of the medal podium in men’s ice hockey at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, 27-year-old T.J. Oshie gave many fans their standout memory of the Games. His heroics back in February when he converted four of six shootout attempts against Russia gave the United States a 3-2 victory in the team’s most-hyped match of the preliminary round.
Oshie is 27-for-48 (56.2 percent) in shootouts in six years with the St. Louis Blues, and he netted an NHL-leading nine shootout goals last season.
“It’s the one thing in hockey where I'm very confident I'm going to score every time,” Oshie told NHL.com. “I think it's a big part of the game. (The Blues) used to not practice it ever, but over the last couple seasons I've been telling the coaches and goalie coaches, ‘Hey, these are points, so we need to work on it.’”
Oshie is one of 25 players who represented Team USA at Sochi 2014 who are set to play in the NHL this season. The NHL opens its regular season Wednesday.
Oshie had a busier summer than most between raising his seven-month-old child, Lyla Grace, caring for his father, Timothy, who has Alzheimer’s, and presenting at the ESPYS. He also graces the Midwest edition cover of Sports Illustrated.
He hopes to help the Blues rebound from last season’s disappointing first-round playoff exit to the Chicago Blackhawks and potentially claim its first Stanley Cup title. The Blues opens its campaign against the New York Rangers Thursday.
Mr. Clutch returns to St. Louis alongside team captain David Backes, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and newcomer Paul Stastny, all of whom he played alongside in Sochi. Backes had three goals and assist in six games in Sochi, while Shattenkirk recorded three points. Both Backes and Stastny played in their second Winter Games in Sochi.
Stastny, who posted 25 goals and 35 assists last season for the Colorado Avalanche, signed with the Blues this summer. He will most likely be Oshie’s linemate in the Blues’ opening game against the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers Thursday.
“The guys that play with him, he just seems to make the game seem so much simpler for them, too,” Oshie told NHL.com of Stastny. “He's very smart, probably one of the smartest players I've played with in terms of reading and reacting.”
Minnesota’s Family Ties
Further north, but keeping within the NHL’s Central Division, Team USA captain Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — both two-time U.S. Olympians — will look to lead a Minnesota Wild squad in search of a third consecutive postseason bid for the first time in franchise history.
Suter, a defenseman who led both the NHL in time on ice (29:24/game) last season as well as Team USA in Sochi (23:27/game), will be in a different state of mind when the Wild opens its campaign against the Avalanche Thursday on NBCSN. Suter had a difficult offseason as his father, Bob Suter, a defenseman on the gold-medal winning 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, died after a heart attack Sept. 9. He was 57.
Ryan Suter will keep himself busy serving as a support system for Parise this season, however.
Zach’s father, J.P., a former NHL player for the Minnesota North Stars and New York Islanders, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer — the most advanced form of the disease — during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“It was honestly one of the worst days of my life,” Zach told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week. “Worst part, I called him right after, and I couldn’t even speak. The doctor gave him two years. After he was diagnosed, my mom got in the car crying and he said, ‘Donna, if I’ve got two years to live, I can’t sit here and watch you cry every day. This is just life. This is how it’s going to be.’
“He said the same thing to me as I cried. That’s just how my dad is. He said, ‘My goal right now is to watch you play in the next Olympics.’”
Zach will lean on Ryan as he aims for his first 30-goal performance for the Wild — a feat he accomplished previously in five of his seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils.
“I can’t wait for the season to start because (my dad) loves coming to games so much,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “Everything about the game, the way I play, he has taught me everything. Every kid’s dad is their role model, but it goes beyond that with him. It’s so much more. The life lessons he taught me have been unbelievable.”
Chicago’s Cashing In
Elsewhere in the Midwest — and yes, still within the Team USA-packed Central Division — the Chicago Blackhawks will look to reap the benefits of its new eight-year, $84 million contract with Patrick Kane.
Kane, a two-time Olympian who has six 60-plus point NHL seasons under his belt, now has the highest per-year value contract in the NHL (along with teammate Jonathan Toews). The Blackhawks are favored to win their sixth Stanley Cup at 13/2 odds, according to Bovada.
Repeat In LA?
Over in the Pacific Division, Team USA goaltender Jonathan Quick and right wing Dustin Brown — both two-time Olympians — are still fresh off their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Quick reached 176 career wins between the posts last season, making him L.A.’s all-time leader in the category, and he hopes to be the Kings’ anchor once again.
Although Quick underwent wrist surgery in June, he reportedly is continuing to progress in his recovery. The Kings received their Stanley Cup rings Monday night and will open their regular season against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday in the Staples Center.
Captain New York
On the other side of the country, the Rangers recognized defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s career season last year by naming him team captain for the 2014-15 season. At 25, McDonagh is the fourth-youngest captain in team history.
Last season, McDonagh recorded career highs in goals (14), assists (29) and points (43) en route to a team MVP award for the Rangers. He also proved to be a key player for Team USA in Sochi with a goal and an assist in six games.
Teammate Derek Stepan, who also played for Team USA, was named an alternate captain for the Rangers. But don’t expect to see him on the ice anytime soon. The Rangers put the forward on the long-term injured reserve list due to a fractured fibula. The earliest he could return is in November.
Stastny is just one of four U.S. Olympians to be debuting with a new NHL team this week. Goalie Ryan Miller, the star of Team USA’s silver-medal run in Vancouver in 2010 who backed up Quick in Sochi, was traded to the Blues mid-season in 2013-14 and then signed with the Vancouver Canucks during the offseason.
Meanwhile, center Ryan Kesler, a two-time U.S. Olympian, made his much-awaited move away from the Canucks this summer when the team traded him to the Anaheim Ducks. He joins defenseman Cam Fowler, a member of the 2014 U.S. team.
After 11 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, defenseman and two-time Olympian Brooks Orpik moved on to the Washington Capitals this offseason, where he joins 2014 U.S. Olympic defenseman John Carlson.
Defenseman Paul Martin could be the next Penguin on the move. He is set to start the season back in Pittsburgh but looks to be a potential trade target throughout the season
Forward Ryan Callahan, a two-time Olympian who was with the Rangers last February, was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning after the Winter Games and returns to the Florida team this year.
Seven more U.S. players return to the same NHL teams as last season, highlighted by Toronto Maple Leafs linemates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. The wingers were 1-2 in scoring last season for the Maple Leafs, which just missed out on the playoffs.
Two-time Olympian Joe Pavelski returns to the San Jose Sharks, who are still seeking their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final after making the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 seasons.
Goalie Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings), defenseman Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes), forward Max Pacioretty (Montreal Canadiens) and Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets) also return to their 2013-14 teams.
Stuart Lieberman is a New York-based writer who works as a researcher at NBC Sports and previously covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.