Five-Ring Circus

American Hockey Hero T.J. Oshie, from Hockeytown, USA, Is a Very American American

T.J. Oshie

The United States’ T.J. Oshie celebrates after scoring in the shootout against Russia.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

On Saturday in Sochi, forward T.J. Oshie scored four goals in a climactic shootout to lead the United States to a dramatic victory over Russia. This was not the Miracle on Ice—this was no massive mismatch, Al Michaels was not on the microphone, and the letters CCCP were not emblazoned across the Russians’ chests. Even so, it’s impossible to suppress a swell of patriotic pride when the USA takes down Russia on Olympic ice. That goes double when the American hero hails from Hockeytown, USA.

Earlier this month, the New York Times’ Jeré Longman filed a dispatch from Warroad, Minn., a town of 1,781 that, amazingly, is the hometown of both T.J. Oshie and Gigi Marvin of the U.S. women’s hockey team. (Oshie and Marvin were the King and Queen of Warroad’s Frosty Festival in 2005.) The U.S. men have never won a gold medal without a gent from Warroad on the roster. Many of those men had the last name Christian, and that family would form the Christian Brothers hockey stick company. Sales reportedly jumped 40 percent after Warroad’s Dave Christian helped lead the USA to victory over the USSR in 1980. The company’s motto: “Nice Guys, Tough Sticks.”

The town’s hockey tradition dates back to decades before the Winter Olympics existed. As Longman writes:

At the Warroad Museum, hockey is traced to 1904 when George Marvin, Gigi’s great-grandfather, got off a train from Manitoba to manage a grain elevator and a lumber and coal business.

“Do you play hockey?” asked the man who greeted Marvin.

Retellings have hardened the story into fact. “It was in the paper,” said Beth Marvin, the town historian. “It might even be true.”

Charles P. Pierce tells that same story in “Soul on Ice,” his classic GQ essay on Warroad that’s anthologized in his book Sports Guy. At the conclusion of his piece, Pierce writes:

By custom, and by common consent, Warroad has defined itself by its ice hockey, and its ice hockey is indivisible from the history of the town itself. It has not been imposed as some kind of favor from distant and wealthy people who understand little and care less. So the new people will play hockey if they stay, and they always stay, the way that George Marvin stayed, climbing off the train at the depot across the street. He happened to play hockey, you know.

Oshie moved to Warroad from Washington State during high school—he had family there, and he wanted to imbibe the town’s hockey traditions. Oshie, who led the Warroad Warriors to two state titles, seems like he picked everything up just fine. In an interview after Saturday’s victory, Oshie was asked what he had to say to the fans back home. “Hockeytown, USA,” he said. “What more can you say?”

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.