For Blues' Backes and Oshie, playing in Winter Games is what dreams are made of

News-DemocratFebruary 8, 2014 

Hockey is not a mere game in Minnesota.

It is an icy religion played out on frozen ponds, outdoor rinks and indoor arenas of all shapes and sizes. The state boasts a proud Olympic hockey tradition that includes St. Louis Blues forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie.

This will be the second Olympic appearance with Team USA for Backes, who grew up in Minneapolis. Oshie, who moved to tiny Warroad, Minn., from Washington before winning a pair of state titles in high school, will be making his Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia.

"The Olympics is an experience like none other," said Backes, an integral part of the U.S. silver medal squad in 2010. "There's an atmosphere around the games, a buzz in that village that you can't replicate anywhere else."

Oshie virtually lived inside hockey rinks during his high school career in Warroad, a town of just under 1,800 near the Canadian border which proudly calls itself "Hockey Town, USA." Warroad has produced three Olympic hockey champions and eight Olympic players overall.

The legendary gold medal "Miracle on Ice" 1980 squad had 11 players from Minnesota and was coached by Minnesota native and University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks.

Oshie and Backes are among nine players with Minnesota ties on the 2014 squad. Oshie's second cousin, former NHL player Henry Boucha, was on the Team USA silver medal squad at the 1972 Olympics.

"There is a sense of pride in our hockey because so many guys on the team are from Minnesota," said Oshie, who will be joined by his mother, Tina, in Sochi. "I know how good the hockey is there, how many good players come out of there. They take pride in it --and it's a good place to live if you're a hockey player."

The Warroad High School Class of 2005 was a special one. The tiny class produced two Team USA Olympic hockey players in Oshie and women's team member Gigi Marvin.

"They were king and queen of the winter prom together in 2005," said Oshie's father, Tim Oshie.

Producing Olympic hockey players is a tradition in Warroad. Dave Christian won gold in 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., and his father and uncle --Bill Christian and Roger Christian -- were on the 1960 squad that won in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Backes and the other Team USA players have seen "Miracle," the movie based on the incredible 1980 gold medal squad. They know the story all too well and take pride in wearing the red, white and blue sweater.

"Unfortuantely it's the last time we've won gold, so it's 34 years worth of building that legacy --and I think 34 years is long enough," Backes said. "It's time for us to write a new story."

Oshie's grandparents were from Warroad and he and his father moved to Minnesota from Washington following his parents' divorce.

"It's hard for me to say I'm from one place because I grew up in Everett (Wash.) and then I went to high school in Minnesota and that's where my career got started," Oshie said. "It's pretty special. That's what it says on the hometown."

Backes starred in hockey at Spring Lake Park High near Minneapolis as well as Minnesota State-Mankato. He was the Blues' second-round draft choice in 2003 and lives in St. Louis, but his roots are in his home state.

"If you're in Minnesota right now, there's not much else to do than go out to the outdoor rinks and skate around," Backes said. "You're in the deep freeze. That's what I grew up doing, even if it was for 10-minute spurts because your toes got too cold.

"You'd come back in, warm up and then get right back out on the ice."

Backes and Oshie left St. Louis on Saturday night for a flight to Newark, N.J., then will head to Russia.

"It's obviously different this time going to Russia," Backes said. "You're halfway across the world, different culture, different language, different food.

"It's going to be a little bit more difficult assimilitating into that culture and the surroundings, but everyone's going to have to do it."

Does Backes have concerns about safety with rumors of potential terrorist attacks?

"You get all the rumblings in the news reports, it's hard to just completely ignore them," he said. "But we have faith that the (Olympic) committe and the Russian federation will put a safe games on."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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