Mike Murphy: Coaching T.J. Oshie

by Tom Gulitti (NHL Writer)

*Article originally published on NHL.com on Dec. 4th by Tom Gulitti 

ARLINGTON, Va. -- T.J. Oshie was too young at the time to remember it, but the Washington Capitals forward has heard the story of how he got started in hockey enough times that he knows it well.

When he was 4, his father, Tim, took him to a Seattle Thunderbirds game. After watching the Western Hockey League team play once, Oshie was hooked.

"My dad said that after we went I told him I wanted to play hockey," Oshie said. "So they signed me up for skating lessons right away and then I started playing."

When Oshie was growing up in Everett, Washington, about 30 miles north of Seattle, the Thunderbirds were the best local option to see a game. (The Everett Silvertips joined the WHL as an expansion team in 2003-04, after Oshie moved to Warroad, Minnesota with his father in 2002.)

Future generations of hockey players and fans in Seattle will soon have a new source of inspiration in the area after the NHL Board of Governors approved the addition of the Seattle expansion team on Tuesday. It will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

"I think it's great," Oshie said. "It will be really exciting for the area. I know a lot of my family and family friends are very excited to get a team there, whether they'll be cheering for them or they're just excited to not travel so far to Vancouver to see me [against the Canucks]. But it will be big for the area. There's a lot of really good sports fans in that town."

Much of Oshie's immediate family lives in the Seattle area, including his father, who is back in Everett, and his mother, Tina, who lives in Stanwood, about 50 miles north of Seattle. He believes the market will embrace the NHL team.

"The fans will be crazy," said Oshie, who has been sidelined since Nov. 14 with an upper-body injury. "The Seahawks [in the NFL] might be on a little bit of a different level, but you can see how passionate that city can get. … There's a lot of hockey fans out there that are playing youth hockey that you don't really realize."

Oshie's connection with Warroad High School, where he starred for three seasons and helped win Minnesota State Class A championships in 2003 and 2005, is more well known, but most of his developmental years were spent in the Seattle area.

He got his start and played 10 seasons with the Seattle Junior Hockey Association before he left for Warroad following his freshman year of high school.

SJHA president Mike Murphy, who coached Oshie on the squirt, pewee and bantam teams and remains close with him, remembers thinking back then that Oshie was good enough to make it to the NHL.

"Seattle doesn't have a big history of NHL guys, but he was so much better than everybody else," Murphy said. "He scored so many points as a youth player that instead of parents doctoring the stats to give him more, they took them away from him. … The thing is he would just as soon set other kids up to score, kind of like he does in the NHL."

Murphy believes Oshie would've made it to the NHL without leaving the Seattle area, but Oshie had his heart set on playing high school hockey in Warroad, like his great uncle, Richard Oshie. Plus, playing for the Northwest Admirals, SJHA's travel team, had become more difficult for Oshie after his parents separated and he moved to Stanwood with his mother.

"We were traveling in traffic for me to get to practices, so at times it would take two hours to get to the rink," Oshie said. "My mom would drop me off to my dad's side of the family and they would drive me to practice. I'd get dropped back off, we'd meet my mom and then she'd drive me back home."

Going to Warroad paved Oshie's path to the University of North Dakota and the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, who selected him with the No. 24 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. Of the 14 Washington-born players to reach the NHL (a group that also includes Spokane natives Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Derek Ryan of the Calgary Flames), Oshie has the most points with 478 (196 goals, 282 assists) in 683 games with the Blues and the Capitals.

Last season with the Capitals, Oshie became the second Washington-born player to win the Stanley Cup, joining Wayne Hicks, a native of Aberdeen, Washington who played one game for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1961 Final against the Detroit Red Wings.

"It obviously worked out for the best," Murphy said. "But it would have been interesting to see out here which path he would have chosen when he got older [if he stayed]."

High school hockey wouldn't have been an option if Oshie had stayed in the Seattle area. In fact, as a freshman, he was the only hockey player in his school.

Youth hockey participation has increased considerably since then, particularly in the past 5-10 years. According to USA Hockey, the number of registered 18-and-under players in Seattle and its surrounding suburbs increased 10.4 percent from 1,179 in 2008-09 to 1,301 in 2013-14, and another 34.1 percent to 1,744 in 2017-18.

Murphy, who is also coach and GM of the Seattle Junior Totems in the Western States Hockey League, said he's already seen an impact because of the expected arrival of the NHL expansion team.

The past two "Try Hockey for Free" clinics hosted by SJHA each drew more than 120 kids, including 133 for the most recent one Nov. 10, a significant jump from the usual crowd of 25-30.

"[When] we get that team, put the name out and start running commercials, I think it will really take off because there are some good athletes out there, good high school football and junior football players," Murphy said. "Those kids aren't exposed to hockey, but if somebody were to put a rink farther north of Everett, I think there's a lot of kids who would play hockey up there."