Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hometown hero delivers Cup

Blackhawks' Toews totes guest Stanley

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For one day, at least, Captain Serious wasn't so, well, serious.

And why not? After all, how many 25-year-old hockey players get to come home after capturing a second Stanley Cup -- not to mention the previous accomplishments that include two world junior golds, Olympic gold and world championship gold -- and celebrate in the parking lot of an arena named after yourself?

But that was the sun-baked reality for Jonathan Toews, the proud son of St. Vital and captain of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, as between 3,000 and 3,500 Winnipeggers flocked to the Jonathan Toews Community Centre parking lot to yell, "Hoist it! Hoist it!"

Toews obliged, kissing the pride of the NHL, the silver chalice that now holds his name twice.

Surreal, perhaps?

"Yeah, it sure is," conceded Toews, who experienced a similar celebration after the Hawks won the Cup in 2010 and the former Dakota Community Centre was renamed. "It was last time, when they decided to change the name. I wouldn't say I was embarrassed, but I felt like I didn't yet deserve that honour. And to come back here and see the name on the building, I think that's a pretty cool thing.

"I think you always try and credit the other people that helped you get there in the first place. Your name might be on the building but there's more to it than that. It's a special moment to be here, though."

'... To come back here and see the name on the building, I think that's a pretty cool thing'

--Chicago Blackhawks captain and Winnipeg product Jonathan Toews, about his visit to the Jonathan Toews Community Centre

It wasn't just special for Toews, either. In the throng of fans could be found four-year-old William Bader, who has worn his tiny red Blackhawks T-shirt for 26 days straight. And counting.

"I can only take it off to wash it," mom Christa said, "but then it has to go back on."

Asked how long the streak would last, young William replied: "One hundred days!"

Roxane Dupuis, meanwhile, was nearing the tent where the more fortunate fans poised for pictures with Toews, along with sons, Mario and Yanik (yes, Mario was named after former Penguins star Mario Lemieux).

"We have two reasons to be here," said Dupius, a huge Hawks fan. "Jonathan and the Cup."

Question: If you named one son after Mario Lemieux, any chance another could be named Jonathan? "Absolutely," Dupius replied, without hesitation. "You can put that in print."

Jeff and Jen Marusyk didn't name their six-week-old boy, Dylan, after Toews. But the lad was born just 19 days before the Hawks' Game 6 victory over the Boston Bruins to clinch Stanley. On Friday afternoon, Dylan was wearing a Hawks jersey, just like his mom and dad. "That's my first jersey ever," Jeff said. "I was wearing it when I was three."

The Marusyks have Jets season tickets and they've already circled Nov. 1 and Nov. 21 on the calendar -- the dates Toews' Blackhawks will be coming to town, now that Chicago and Winnipeg are in the same division. It will mark Toews' first appearance at the MTS Centre to play the Jets in a regular-season contest.

"They (Toews' parents, Bryan and Andree Gilbert) are more nervous about the whole list of tickets they'll have to come up with," Toews said of bringing his Hawks to Winnipeg in November. "That's never an easy thing. But I think they're going to enjoy it, too. Starting out my career in Chicago six years ago, I never would have imagined that there'd be a team in Winnipeg so soon and I never thought I'd get a chance in my lifetime as a hockey player to have a chance to play a pro game here. So it's going to be a pretty special thing."

Indeed, a lot of people in the crowd, Chicago fans or not, made no secret of their wish Toews might someday wear Jets colours. "He's got that crossover effect," said Darren Steen of Toews. "I'm sure 90 per cent of the people here would like to see a trade happen."

But if Hawks fans dominated the day, then youth was a close second. In fact, the number of aspiring minor hockey players of similar ages made up almost half of the crowd, as Tom Cochrane sang, "My boy's going to play in the big leagues... " over the loudspeakers.

Nicholas Miller, 6, like his father, Chris, was decked out in a Toews No. 19 jersey. Chris Miller shook hands with Toews and said, "I hope we do this again next year. I need another reason to jump around in my basement."

It's a basement that includes a signed Toews jersey and hockey stick, among other memorabilia. Son Nicholas's bedroom is a shrine to the Hawks, too. "His room is complete wall-to-wall Blackhawks," said dad Chris. "Bedding, pillows, even the garbage can. The whole thing."

Elsewhere in the crowd, Chris Guimond was holding his own Stanley Cup. Only it was plastic and filled with air. It was the same faux cup Guimond brought with him for the last celebration in 2010, with his boys Sebastian and Felix, who play minor hockey in Sagkeeng First Nation.

"It means a lot to me," Guimond said. "It was a long wait, but it was worth it. He (Toews) is a good role model for these little guys. All kids, not just my boys."

Toews still calls the Jonathan Toews Community Centre the Dakota. "I don't think that's something I'll get used to," he explained. But the fact Toews, as a young boy, tied up his skates in the arena is a fact almost every hockey parent relays to their children.

So when Toews points to the Stanley Cup on the parking-lot stage and utters, "You can go after it and bring this guy home; not once, but twice," impressionable ears are paying attention.

What made 10-year-old Devin Steen first decide to play hockey? "I wanted to bring home the Stanley Cup and get pictures with people," he said.

Why not? That's what Toews was doing Friday. Again.

But Toews admitted his date with Stanley is different this time.

"I had two days with it last time and it was a crazy two days," he noted. "I don't think I had a spare minute to breathe, bouncing all over the city. I mean, that's the way it's got to be."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A13

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