Near the entrance to the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, there's a flight of stairs both steep and daunting. But that didn't stop 2-year-old Mya Kofstad from tackling the challenge recently, perhaps a sign of the bravery in her family's genes.
Halfway up the concrete steps, and before her parents Lee and Xan Kofstad could even think to react, little Mya fell. There was a pause ... and then tears. Several rushed to grab her, but much like when there's a loose puck on the ice, T.J. Oshie arrived first.
"I'd hope that anyone would do it," said Oshie, the popular Blues forward and former member of the UND Fighting Sioux. "She's about to fall down cement stairs. I just picked her up and held her. Honestly it just happened. Instincts, I guess."
After Mya's tears had dried, and it was apparent she escaped injury, Xan Kofstad said of Oshie's quick response, "He didn't just pick her up. He jumped over the railing, and ran to her and picked her up."
Oshie's instincts and athletic ability were part of the reason the Kofstads, who live in East Grand Forks, traveled to the Xcel Energy on Feb. 12, the day the Blues faced Minnesota. He is the family's favorite NHL player. Oldest sons Ajay, 9, and Cam, 6, are Wild fans, but they came to the rink wearing Blues' jerseys.
"When T.J. first came to UND, we went to quite a few games," Lee Kofstad said. "Matt Greene had left UND and Ajay said, 'I have to pick a new player to follow.' When he saw T.J., he just liked the way that he played. I told Ajay that T.J. was from Warroad, and he thought that was even cooler. He followed him all the way through UND and now he wears his No. 7."
Lee, who was born in Roseau, near Warroad, wore a huge smile as Oshie, who now wears No. 74 for the Blues, mingled with his family. It was a welcomed break from the sorrow that has engulfed the Kofstads recently.
On Dec. 28, Lee's 37th birthday, the husband and father of three learned that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the highest stage. His cancer has metastasized outside the pancreas. Chemotheraphy wasn't an option at first, but now after having stints placed in his pancreas and bile duct, he's undergone two rounds of chemo.
"It's a shock," said Xan Kofstad, who met Lee in Grand Forks before the two married in 2003. "He's hardly had a cold or the flu in his life. It's amazing to his doctors when they go through their list of questions ... he still has his tonsils. He still has his appendix. He still has his gall bladder. But yet, here he is in this situation. He looks healthy. It's hard to believe what's going on inside."
Page 2 of 3 - On Feb. 5, the hockey community in East Grand Forks organized a benefit for the Kofstads to help defray medical costs and travel expenses. An estimated 1,000 people turned out for spaghetti dinner and a live band, but most importantly, to show their support. There was another benefit in Warroad on Feb. 12.
"I'll be honest, I didn't know that I liked 1,000 people," Kofstad said. "It was overwhelming ... it really was. You can't even describe how many people who came to help out and what was donated. There was fishing trips, hockey camp weekends, stay at resorts ... it was pretty crazy."
One of the donations was tickets to the Minnesota Wild game on Feb. 12, compliments of Bob Marvin, one of the team's minority owners. When Tim Oshie, T.J.'s father, heard about the trip and realized the Wild were playing the Blues that night, he arranged a meet-and-greet with the Kofstad's adopted son.
"I just said, 'I want to have you guys meet T.J. ... they were ecstatic," Tim Oshie said. "I presented them with an 'Osh' signed jersey and someautograph pictures, a baseball cap and some cards. I donate a lot of stuff for everybody around the country. But I definitely want to make sure I take care of the Warroad family."
After counting down the hours until the trip, the Kofstad children waited in the concourse for T.J. Oshie to emerge from a team meeting.
"They see him coming, and they know it's him and they got all quiet," Lee said.
Ajay and Cam were mesmerized.
"T.J. said, 'How are you guys doing?'" Ajay said.
He and his younger brother could hardly talk.
"I don't know how that happened," Xan said. "I wish we could bottle it up and take it home with us."
T.J. said he remembers being in their shoes ... speechless.
"A lot of people don't realize that we were those little kids at one point," Oshie said. "We were the kids that had favorite players. I still feel like I'm kind of that kid at times. It's unreal, the support that we get. Sometimes we don't realize it until we see stuff like that."
After signing a few autographs for the Kofstads, Oshie left for the Blues' pregame meal. But before he got away, he put another signature on the moment.
"My little baby girl, she fell down the stairs, and I mean T.J. was there, picked her up, held her and carried her to my wife," Lee said. "I'll be honest with you, that's how I judge people, how they treat my kids. That's how I judge a person's character, and he treated my kids great."
Page 3 of 3 - Lee's eyes started to water. He's facing a tough opponent. More than 42,000 Americans develop pancreatic cancer each year, and it's now the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths each year in the United States.
"Now, it's just what the averages are," Kofstad said. "I think it's 5-6 months without treatment ... with treatment 7 or 8 ... other than a miracle. I don't follow how I'm progressing. It's at the stage it's at, it will be at the stage it's at, and I'll do the best that I can.
"I'm not scared. I'm scared for the four people I've got here. For me, honestly, I'm OK. It's just them. They've been my life, they were my life ... that's what they are."
Days together are the best. If you can throw in the family's favorite hockey player, even better.
"It's about making memories for the kids," Xan said. "Everybody pulled together and made it happen for us."