Let Jonathan Toews show you what pressure is.
Note the crease of concentration in his dry brow – even he laughs at his nickname, Captain Serious – but watch his forehead slowly dampen, then pimple with sweat until, finally, one growing drop of perspiration slides down his temple and away.
The interview is over.
Jonathan Toews is 25 years old. It seems an Ice Age since he became the Chicago Blackhawks’ youngest captain, at 20, and the youngest to hoist the Stanley Cup – something he has now done twice in only his seventh season as a professional.
Toews may well have the most impressive hockey credentials of anyone that age:
Two Stanley Cups, 2010 and 2013.
The Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2010 playoffs.
An Olympic gold medal, in which he led his team in scoring and was chosen top forward of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Youngest player to join the Triple Gold Club – exclusive to players who have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and the world championship.
The first Canadian to win a world junior championship and a world championship in the same year, 2007.
Awarded the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward in 2013.
Toews has an uncanny knack of rising to the occasion. He first became known to Canadians during the 2007 world juniors, held in Sweden, when he scored three times in a critical shootout against the United States. He scored on his very first shot in the NHL. And just last week in Chicago, he took control of a game his Blackhawks were losing 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators, scoring a natural hat trick as he led his team to a 6-5 comeback victory.
This occasion, however, was rather different.
Jonathan Toews was coming home, back to Winnipeg.
Curiously, the local hero – twice he has brought the Stanley Cup to cheering crowds in Winnipeg, the city named a rink after him, the province of Manitoba named a lake after him – had never played an NHL game here until this weekend.
Monday morning he was to meet Barak Obama at the White House, as the President of the United States salutes the championship hockey team; but Saturday morning he had to meet the gathered media throng and do something – talk about himself – that he would obviously rather not have to.
He was asked if he thought he might be booed at the MTS Centre, as Winnipeg fans have a reputation for targeting one visiting a player a game to feel their wrath.
He answered diplomatically, always diplomatically, yet there was a strong sense of competition there – almost as if he invited the booing: “If it’s me or another player on the team it’ll be pretty exciting.”
For the record, they chose Patrick Kane to jeer, choosing instead to cheer and applaud Toews as he skated out for the warmup. The powerful Blackhawks would easily dispose of the struggling Jets 5-1.
“He gives you everything he’s got every practice, every game, every shift,” says former NHL defenceman Norm Maciver, now assistant general manager of the Blackhawks.
“He’s a complete hockey player. He plays extremely hard, never takes a shift off – and it’s contagious. When you watch the other guys you can see that it just seeps right from the top down through the team. He’s a great leader.”
As for the Captain Serious tag, Maciver says it’s a misread, people presuming Toews’s all-business attitude on the ice is also Toews off the ice.
“It’s just not true. He has a lot of fun off the ice. I’m on the road most of the time with the team and I see the camaraderie he has with his teammates. He’s just a really focused guy once the puck drops.
“He’s a great kid and we’re very lucky to have him.”
So, too, will Canada be lucky in Sochi if Toews remains healthy and continues to play at his current level. He and Sidney Crosby, the 2010 Olympic hero, are considered to be the only two players with a firm lock on their positions, both centres, with Team Canada 2014.
He has not, he said Saturday, given much thought to the Winter Games, now less than three months away. One game at a time, he would say, and so it was Winnipeg, not Sochi, on his mind this day.
As for Winnipeg fans, if they could take little comfort from their own team this Saturday afternoon, they at least finally got to see Toews play live. Since the re-born Jets returned in 2011, there had only been one match with the Blackhawks and that was held in Chicago. With no inter-conference play in last year’s shortened season, there had been no chance of a meeting. This year, with the Jets being moved to the Western Conference, they will meet again in Chicago on Wednesday and here again in Winnipeg on Nov. 21.
But this would be the first, and all week the papers in Chicago and Winnipeg had been talking about the kid from the St. Vital area of town, the youngster who grew up a fanatical Jets fan – his gods were Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk – and who would go to games with his Dad and turn down offers of hot dogs or popcorn because snacking might distract from his concentration on the game.
He was interviewed in both official languages – Toews’s father, Bryan, is an electrician, his mother, Andrée, comes from Quebec, and his parents had him in French immersion through Grade 10 – and said he had no idea how many tickets for family and friends he had to deliver on. “Ask my mom,” he said.
In perfect French, he told the Manitoba francophone media about what it felt like to be back where his dreams began. He said he and the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin – who played briefly for the Jets before they left town to become the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 – were on the airport bus when it passed the Polo Park shopping centre. They looked out to where the old Winnipeg Arena once stood, and the memories came flooding back.
This was where the dream began for Toews. He was a star in minor hockey and drafted high by the junior leagues, but chose instead to go the college route. He spent two years at Unthe iversity of North Dakota before signing with the Blackhawks, who drafted him third overall – St. Louis Blues took American defenceman Erik Johnson first and the Pittsburgh Penguins took Canadian forward Jordan Staal second – in the 2006 draft.
At the time, the dream of playing for the Jets was long gone, the team dead a decade, and he never expected that one day his town would get its team back.
The return of the Jets has raised an unlikely scenario in which Toews, who would become an unrestricted free agent after next season, could theoretically set his sights on wearing the uniform he used to dream about.
“People want to talk to you about it all the time,” he told the Chicago media last week. “And it does run through your mind a little bit – but I always squish that question as soon as you can ask me.”
Still, it is something that not only he thinks about but Winnipeg fans cannot help but imagine, especially as they watch how he is so clearly in charge of a team that is as close to a dynasty as today’s NHL knows.
He does not score this afternoon, but he plays a driven 18:25 and is a force to be reckoned with in every one of his 22 shifts.
The victory won, he is the one the lights and microphones race to when the dressing room opens.
And he is not even sweating.
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