Back in 2010, Jonathan Toews was a 21-year-old member of Team Canada expected to play a secondary role on a team deep in talent and experience. Four years later, Sidney Crosby called him to ask for his blessing prior to accepting the captaincy role.
In a very short time, Toews has become one of the most important voices in Canadian hockey. While Crosby will wear in the C in Sochi, he will most certainly be leaning on Winnipeg's favourite son for support.
Toews -- and this didn't come as surprise to people in Manitoba or the city of Chicago -- was unwilling to quietly work in the shadows in 2010. Crosby may have scored the golden goal but it was Toews who drove Canada throughout the Olympics as his being named the tournament's best forward attests.
Toews is among the most complete players in the game, often sacrificing offence for defence. He plays the game to win and not to make the highlight reel. He's a refreshing change in a game where GMs reward points and statistics with huge contracts. For the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, Toews represents the resurgence of the franchise and the two Stanley Cups they've won in the last four seasons. For Canadian hockey fans, his leadership and desire to win make him different than all the rest. If Canada wins gold in Sochi, Toews will have completed his mission.
Toews gave the Free Press some time recently to discuss the upcoming Olympics:
FREE PRESS: What does playing for Canada mean to you?
JONATHAN TOEWS: It means a lot. You don't always get the opportunity to go to the Olympics. Whatever country you're playing for, you play it with pride. As for Canada, it is the ultimate pressure because everyone expects you go come home with a gold medal. I think everyone that plays for Canada has that same pressure.
FP: Does the pressure at this tournament drive you?
JT: Absolutely. What else can you ask for? For the players that want to be in that position, that's what it's all about. There's nothing different than easy games. It's not like regular a season game where there's not as much pressure, I mean, it comes down to playoffs, the tournament style format, and the Olympics are exciting because those kinds of games determine what type of player you are.
FP: Where does that come from, why doesn't the pressure bother you?
JT: That's the great part. Finding a way to deal with that pressure and overcome it. I think you know that the players you're up against show the same emotion and the same feelings of pressure. If you can find a way to deal with it and overcome it better than they can, it makes you feel pretty good about your chances of winning.
It's not even just a Team Canada vs. Team USA battle, it's who can hang in the moment better than the other.
FP: Your career has been attached to that of Hawks teammate, and member of Team USA, Patrick Kane. Is it strange to compete against him?
JT: No, not at all. I feel in a way that we are always compared to one another and we are always trying to be better. When one guy has success, it motivates the other to improve and to take away what they can from the other guy's game. I think we always had a friendly competition of who would have made each other better... So this way it's an actual test to go head to head and have something to prove to one another, so it's a different way to look at it.
FP: Chicago teammates Duncan (Keith) and Patrick (Sharp) will be with you. Will that be fun?
JT: Of course. A fun experience to share with guys you know very well and who you are around every day. To see them go through that experience with you and hopefully win a gold medal, that's pretty cool. A short time with some of your new teammates, but I think if you have a chance to win, it's a great way to bond and build lasting friendships.
FP: Some of the moments you get to experience, gold medal at the Olympics, the Stanley Cup twice. Do you take Winnipeg with you when you go on those journeys?
JT: Of course. I see a tremendous amount of pride and support when I go home and I'm able to share that success with people from Winnipeg. It definitely reminds you of what a special place it was to grow up. I'm excited to represent where I come from when I have a chance to go play on a big stage like that.
FP: This could be the last time NHL players compete in the Olympics for a while. Does this amp up the stakes for you?
JT: I hope it isn't. I think it's a great thing for our team, also a great experience to be a part of the Olympics. The best players in our sport are there. It's an international sport and people around the world love the game and want to see their best players go represent their country, so I don't see why we would stop doing that. I'll take advantage of the opportunity every chance I have. Even if there are Olympics down the road. You never know if you'll get that chance again. I just hope that's not the case.
FP: What part of the Olympics to you look forward to experiencing?
JT: I didn't take part in the opening or closing ceremonies. That would be really cool to see. To see all of the other athletes, that is one of the cool things about going to the Olympics. It's so different from any other event. As a hockey player, I enjoyed being in the village, keeping track of all the sports and events going on that otherwise you wouldn't have seen. So I have a lot of respect for those people that give their lives for their sport and this moment.
FP: You consider yourself a part of Team Canada, not only the hockey team?
FP: Is it fun to be with Canadian athletes participating in other sports?
JT: That's the cool thing, they're not playing in a professional league year-round. They're training for that moment. That's their time. To see how well Canada did in Vancouver was really amazing. Everyone is proud to be Canadian and I think we're looking forward to having the same experience as those athletes going to Sochi.
FP: Are you bringing family?
JT: Yeah, mom and dad and my girlfriend.
email@example.com Twitter: @garylawless