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This is Toews' team

Crosby likely to wear 'C' in Sochi, but Blackhawk the real leader

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CALGARY -- Jonathan Toews won't admit to this being the plan, but it would not be surprising to find what has transpired the last few years was written down somewhere long ago.

Olympic gold medal. Stanley Cup. Another Stanley Cup. Top player status. In a wild rush spanning less than four years, Toews has gone from precocious to pre-eminent.

Captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, top forward at the 2010 Olympics, Conn Smythe winner in 2010 and a lock to be one of the top centres on Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

When it comes to hockey, no one has it as good as Toews right now.

Toews scoffs at the notion he's executing his own master plan, but the will and force he exhibits on a nightly basis in the NHL suggests different.

'I've been lucky enough to be part of a great group of guys that want to win and an organization in Chicago that will do the things needed to win. You have the opportunities, it's up to you to make sure they don't slip by'

-- Jonathan Toews

Really, does Jonathan Toews leave anything to chance? Sure, he can't guarantee the results he wants but Toews isn't a starry-eyed dreamer that lets the world turn whichever way it wants. No, Toews tries to turn the world in his direction, and lately, he's been more successful than any other player.

This will, this determination, makes Toews the natural leader of Team Canada, regardless of any official designation.

"It's all part of the plan. It's going perfectly so far," laughed Toews, moments after running around street-hockey style as part of Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp in Calgary. "No, I don't think you can plan on it. Lots of players don't get to win the Stanley Cup once, let alone twice. When we won in 2010 we joked about doing a few things differently the next time we won it, but we never would have guessed it would happen again so quickly. I've been lucky enough to be part of a great group of guys that want to win and an organization in Chicago that will do the things needed to win. You have the opportunities, it's up to you to make sure they don't slip by."

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said Monday he had some thoughts on who his captain would be in Sochi, but he hadn't made a final determination. Toews figures in that slight reservation. Sidney Crosby is the consensus pick to be captain, but maybe Toews is better suited for the role.

In seven instances wearing a Team Canada jersey, Toews has won gold six times. He has the knack of being able to do whatever his team needs him to do at the right moment.

'I've been lucky enough to be part of a great group of guys that want to win and an organization in Chicago that will do the things needed to win. You have the opportunities, it's up to you to make sure they don't slip by'

-- Jonathan Toews

Many will argue -- and I'm firmly in this camp -- at this moment in time, Toews is the best player in the world. Durable, clutch and complete. He is The Franchise in Chicago and maybe Canada too.

Crosby is an offensive genius, but his defensive game is lacking. And while he leads with his play, he's not exactly Abe Lincoln when it comes to oratory skills.

Toews took a strong stand during the lockout and is never afraid to speak his mind. It's not hard to imagine him getting up in the dressing room and setting things straight.

Toews, who is just coming down from the high of winning the Stanley Cup last season, says the chance to win and the opportunity to wear a Canadian jersey must always be cherished.

"You grow up dreaming of these chances," said Toews, who fixes his brown eyes on whoever asks him a question and digs for thoughtful and opinionated answers. "I was lucky enough to play in Vancouver and it was the highest moment in my career at the international level.

"Winning a gold medal at the Olympics and winning a Stanley Cup are different. As an NHL player, it's the highest professional level and I'd say the Olympics is the next thing. To be able to represent your country, especially Canada, where every single person around our country is watching that team, there's a lot of pressure and responsibility to show you belong. To win a gold medal is a great feeling in that regard. Winning a Stanley Cup is more of a team aspect, where you're with the same guys every day."

Asked about the difference between playing an Olympics in Canada vs. one overseas and it was immediately apparent Toews relishes the challenge of going to Russia and winning.

"We're always pretty comfortable and cozy on our home turf, but there's a special bonding when you go overseas," he said. "You're the opponent and the bad guy over there. But for the guys that get to go there and want to do what it takes to win gold, there will be no excuses."

Babcock can't go wrong selecting Crosby as his captain. But it should surprise no one if Toews is the de facto leader regardless of the letter on his jersey.

This is Jonathan Toews' time. And this will be his team, too.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2013 D1

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Updated on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 6:44 AM CDT: Adds photo, corrects spelling of Jonathan, fixes headline and deck

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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