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Jake Oettinger’s All-Star Debut Was a Family Affair

The milestone means plenty to the 25-year-old goalie. But the highlight was a week spent with the 9-year-old little brother he has had to love from afar.
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It was a strange year for Jake Oettinger's first NHL All-Star appearance, but hockey was only part of the draw. Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

This was an odd year for Jake Oettinger to make his first NHL All-Star game. 

The 25-year-old posted a .900 save percentage in the first half–a career-worst, and 13 points below his career average. Usually a rock in net for Dallas, Oettinger is giving up more than three goals a game for the first time in his career. 

Then there are the injuries. Before the season started, Oettinger underwent ankle surgery. In December, he suffered a lower-body injury that forced him to miss a month of action. 

Add it up, and this is quantifiably the worst season of his young NHL career. He made the game on reputation and resume, not for his recent play on the ice. 

But if any of that bothered him, it stopped mattering once he arrived in Toronto. For Oettinger, the NHL All-Star weekend was about connecting with his 9-year-old brother, Thomas. 

Jake moved away from their hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota, before Thomas was born in 2015. The goalie was selected by the United States National Development Program after his freshman year of high school and spent the next two years at the residency program in Plymouth, Michigan. While he was home in the summers, Thomas was still a toddler and Jake was busy taking extra classes, finishing high school early so he could attend Boston University as a 17-year-old. As one brother learned to walk, the other was becoming one of the NHL’s top-rated goalie prospects. 

Despite the age and geographical distances, Jake has done his best to be a long-distance older brother to Thomas. 

Throughout his career, Oettinger’s game-day routines have included phone calls from his dad, Chris, after morning skates. In the early years, they often talked about Thomas, with the younger brother occasionally hopping on the call, asking to talk to Jake. Now that Thomas is growing up, he tends to make that call himself. 

“He just got a phone, so he’s FaceTiming me all the time,” Oettinger says. “It’s actually pretty awesome.”

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The brothers Oettinger at the NHL All-Star Game. Photo courtesy of Jake Oettinger.

When Jake was home during Christmas, he made sure to attend Thomas’ hockey game, a role reversal from what Thomas and the Oettinger parents have done so many times for him over the years. The brothers frequently play knee hockey together in the basement in the offseason. 

And, no, Thomas is not a goalie. 

“Keeping him as far away from that as I can,” Oettinger cracks. 

While he’s trying to keep Thomas away from the net, Jake kept Thomas close to everything during NHL All-Star Week. Thomas followed Jake around during NHL All-Star Media Day, joining him for media interviews and photo shoots with rights holders. After Oettinger was drafted by the team captained by Auston Matthews and Justin Bieber in the All-Star player draft, Thomas was welcomed into the locker room as an additional member of the team. 

“It was all surreal, but really having Thomas there was the icing on the cake,” Oettinger says of his first All-Star experience. “And just seeing the way the big guys like Sid [Crosby] and [Connor] McDavid treated him and signed everything and engaged with him was incredible to see. Like if those guys can take time out of their day to treat him like that, anyone can.”

Watching his brother run around the locker room, collecting autographs, and posing for pictures with Bieber helped Oettinger take a step back and better appreciate the moment for himself. He followed Thomas’ lead and reminded himself that it was OK to be a fan for a couple of days. He has always admired Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky from afar and more recently has been watching New York Rangers games because of Igor Shesterkin, so he made sure to spend extended time with both Russian goalies. (And, yes, they made sure to sign cards for Thomas.) 

“Seeing those two up close and what makes them so good up close, it makes me want to be even better,” Oettinger says. “I want to be in that company year after year.”

That could be the best outcome for the Stars and Oettinger.The All-Star game is designed for goalies to fail: it’s about scoring and high-danger chances. But perhaps this exhibition can help rejuvenate Dallas’ No. 1 goalie instead of wear him down. He’s healthy again, and won his last three starts heading into the break, even if none of them featured his best performances. And in his first start out of the break, he stopped 47 shots on Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Buffalo. Could the weekend in Toronto be a recalibration? 

If nothing else, he’s in the right place mentally. 

Oettinger shrugs off criticism that he shouldn’t have been invited to the All-Star game, instead repurposing it as fuel to prove this is the type of stage he should always be on. 

“I like to prove people wrong,” he says. “I like when people are against you. “That’s why you play goalie. That’s why you want to be in this position.” 

At last, he’s gotten there. Best of all, it didn’t take a phone call for his brother to hear all about it.

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Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…

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