By Larry Wigge
You could say Jonathan Toews was playing in the moment.
The moment could be characterized as center stage -- all on the line for the Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks captain wanted to put the Blackhawks on his shoulders. Every fiber of his soul, told you so.
Toews said, "You look at the great players who have worn the 'C' and there's always a defining moment."
I'm quizzing the third player selected overall in the 2006 Entry Draft -- drafted behind only Erik Johnson and Jordan Staal.
It was the second time in four years that Jonathan Toews led Chicago into the winner's circle.
Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux were names of famous captains that came to mind. All of them would not back away from a defining moment.
"Reality sinks in, you're not in dreamland anymore," Toews related in the best way. "You've got to earn every point and every chance. It's not easy.
"But it's not all on my shoulders. We're a young bunch ... with great goals."
For the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, the scene was set with an iffy context. Toews had been held out in the third period of Game 5 with what coach Joel Quenneville called a "dinged noggin." Yet, Jonathan answered the bell.
He played 20:12 on the night. Toews broke out on a two-on-one break give the Blackhawks the tying second at 4:24 of the second period and, with 1:16 left, his sweat pass went right threw Zdeno Chara's legs to a waiting Bryan Bickle to knot the score once again at 2-2.
The stage was set by Jonathan Toews for Dave Bolland to finish off the 3-2 victory with 58.3 seconds left to put the final dagger into the Boston Bruins in six games.
Jonathan had just one shot in the game, three hits, two blocked shots and went 12-8 on faceoffs. Moreover, his playoff performance was highlighted by his two goals and three assists in the final three games, when all the pressure was on the line.
"He had a monster game," Quenneville said of Toews. "He looked ready to go at the end of the last game ... and he was ready to go. The bigger the game, the bigger the setting, you know what you're going to get from Jonathan Toews. He just knows how to play hockey."
He's getting older ... but he's getting better.
At 6-2, 208-pounds, the 25-year-old captain has got all the tools and willingness to compete.
"There's no part of the game he can't compete in," linemate Patrick Kane said. "He just does everything well. But what makes him so special to me is that I have never seen him give up on a single play ... and, believe me, that kind of attitude rubs off on everyone around him."
"He's just getting older ... getting that maturity just comes with age," said defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It's a lot of pressure on a young guy. He's just grown into that, matured. He's a great leader for us.
"He's more comfortable as he's gotten older. As you get older you get comfortable with who you are as a person, more sure of yourself, just a natural progression and maturity as a person and as a player. Not only helps your teammates, but it helps yourself and helps your confidence."
Added Rick Dudley, special assistant in Montreal, "He's one of those rare players, the kind of guy you see out there busting his butt play after play. If you're a teammate, you have to say; 'I'd better get my butt in gear.' "
"This group of guys makes you look good every day," said Toews. "It's a special group, special team and they deserve it more than anybody.
"It's awesome. We're going home. We've got the Cup."
Some could say that Toews performance created a remembrance of the 1970 NBA Finals, when Willis Reed limped onto the court to led the New York Knicks to a triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe so, but the Chicago captain came out full speed despite sitting out the entire third period of Game 5 because of concussion related items.
"He's got it, and he gets it," says Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks senior advisor of hockey operations whose next Stanley Cup will be his 13th. "And when you have what Jonathan has, age doesn't matter. It's the person, not the birth certificate."
How Toews developed his work ethic is no mystery, at least not to him.
Bryan Toews, his father, and Bryan Toews is from farming stock in rural Manitoba and now works as an electrician for the University of Manitoba. Jonathan's mom, Andree-Gilbert, is from Quebec, where she studied to become the managing director and finance expert for a large credit union in the Winnipeg region. She’s smart and she is particularly proud of the work she has done in French relations in the Manitoba area for the bank.
Watching and learning is something Jonathan Toews has been good at since he was a kid.
"I remember taking Jonathan to his first NHL game when he was 4-years-old. You know how kids are at that age, they lose their attention span after a few minutes and want to do something else. But Jonathan didn't even want a treat when I offered to buy him a pop or hot dog. He said, 'Dad, all I want to do is watch the game,' " Bryan Toews said. "When it comes to hockey, he's always been driven and determined and very, very smart. He gets that from his mom."
You might think that a kid who grew up watching the Winnipeg Jets when he was little would idolize former captain Dale Hawerchuk, but Jonathan thought the game started and ended with Wayne Gretzky.
Quite a quantum leap from getting his first stick when he was 2-years-old and stickhandling a tin of petroleum jelly around the house without a misstep. He got his first pair of skates when he was 3 and was an instant whiz on the ice.
"Jonathan could see things you’d show him and then go right out there and do them better than I’d describe them," Bryan laughed. "I remember I had him on the lake when he was four. He had such a natural stride. I remember several parents coming up to me and asking, 'How old is that kid?' "
Jonathan maintains that he wasn't so natural.
"I never was one of the biggest kids, but I kind of found myself thinking of ways in my mind to beat them," he said. "I'd use my skating, my stickhandling, my wits to visualize ways to win."
Detroit's Dan Cleary has seen Toews development from the beginnig. He and Patrick Kane.
"Toews and Kane are a lot like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk." Cleary continued. "They are the Blackhawks two best players. Like Henrik and Pav, NO ONE works any harder than them. It's easy for the rest of the team to follow them."
Never one to pass along praise.
"The best advice I ever got was from Tom Ward, my coach at Shattuck St. Mary's, when he told me, 'You're not going to play the game forever, so it’s more important to be a good person,' " he said.
Level-headed. Smart. Driven. Determined. With a will to win as big as Winnipeg.
"I was like any kid in Canada growing up," he said. "My dad built a rink in our backyard. My brother, David, and I would play until it got so cold we couldn't feel our fingers. I'd dream that I was Gretzky ... in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final ... scoring the winning goal."
Jonathan Toews had two Stanley Cups to his credit. A lot has happened to the boy from Winnipeg, who told his dad at a young age, that he didn't want a pop or a hot dog.
He said, 'Dad, all I want to do is watch the game.'
The beginning of a legend.