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Captain serious

Winnipeg's Jonathan Toews will pull on Team Canada colours next week at the 2010 Olympic Games... it's an honour he doesn't take lightly

Posted: 02/9/2010 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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VANCOUVER — Even before that iconic capital ‘C’ was sewn onto the front of his Chicago Blackhawks’ jersey, Jonathan Toews’ teammates were already calling him "captain."

"Captain Serious," to be exact.

"That's just who I am," began Toews in a chat with the Free Press during a recent Blackhawks road trip.

"Me being the captain is a huge honour and it's something I take very seriously."

 

Now, before we go any further, a little background on one of Canada's youngest Olympians -- and native Winnipegger -- is in order here.

The scene: the Toews' backyard rink in St. Vital roughly five, six years ago or so. David, two years younger than his bro, and Jonathan are playing shinny when...

"The one time I remember beating him in a one-on-one game, honestly, I had to hide behind a snowbank," explained David. "He was so mad he started shooting pucks at me.

"He's really serious and he's super-competitive in whatever he's doing. He has that drive to be the best he can be and he pushed himself to the point where he's accomplished quite a bit.

"He's got a lighter side. But when it comes to hockey, when it comes to being at the rink, he's all business."

 

***

 

There's a story behind the Captain Serious nickname. There's always a story behind every nickname.

Think about it: Peter Parker gets chomped on by a radioactive bug and he's swinging from a thread overhead as Spider-Man. Bruce Wayne throws on a cape and bat suit to fight crime and he's Batman.

And Captain Serious?

"Oh, he told me how he got that," begins David, a forward at the University of North Dakota. "He was rooming with (Blackhawks defenceman Brent) Seabrook in his first year and I guess he was still in bed when Seabrook bursts into the room and jumps on him to try and wake him up and get him going.

"Jonathan didn't want to get up and pushed him away and he was getting mad about being jumped on so early. So Seabs got mad at him back and said, 'OK Captain Serious. I'm not going to wake you up.'

"And it just stuck. It's funny, but it's true. It fits. Believe me, it fits."

 

***

 

Study Jonathan Toews' hockey resumé and it would be easy to assume this has all come very easily.

A star growing up in south Winnipeg, a star at the Shattuck-St. Mary's hockey factory in Minnesota, a star at the University of North Dakota.

Two gold medals as a world junior, including a performance in the '07 tournament -- scoring three times in the shootout in the semifinal win over the U.S. -- that cemented his place in the tourney's already-rich folklore.

He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and that same season represented Canada at the world championships en route to becoming the first Canadian player to win a world junior and world championship gold medal in the same year.

A couple of months later he was awarded the Order of the Buffalo Hunt by the Province of Manitoba -- all this before he had even turned 20.

But wait... there's even more glory to detail here...

When the Blackhawks named him their official on-ice leader at 20 years and 79 days, he became the third-youngest team captain in NHL history behind Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And in December the Hawks rewarded their captain, one of the faces of the franchise's rebirth, with a five-year contract extension worth $31.5 million.

But to call him just plain lucky or even fortunate would also do the man a grave disservice. The skills have always been apparent from the first time he laced up a pair of skates at age three to the time his parents Bryan and Andree were awakened by the sounds of him firing slapshots in the middle of the night. Turns out Jonathan had heard Guy Lafleur had done the same as a kid.

He's got game all right, but it's something he is constantly working to improve. He is, in short, a budding superstar with his ego in check; an Olympian who still brings his hard hat and lunch pail to work every day.

"You see how he's been brought up," Hawks defenceman Brian Campbell recently told the Vancouver Province. "He works hard. He conducts himself in the right way. And he's got that edge that makes him want to get better. Guys can learn about how they should work on their game by watching a 21-year-old and that shows you something.

"You see how he works and prepares on the ice. It's all hockey and it's calculated to be perfect. Maybe he tried to do a little too much with the captaincy at the start of the year but he learned.

"Now he just goes about his business and you follow him because you know how he works."

 

***

 

The next chapter starts in exactly a week. Next Tuesday, Toews will once again pull on Canada's colours and make his Olympic debut in a game against Norway.

Most hockey observers agree Toews could be an Olympic fixture. His game is so layered, so mature and so consistent he could be suiting up in Sochi, Russia in 2014. And in 2018, wherever those Games are headed.

Right here, right now, however, he'll be trying to soak it all up and learn among the sport's established heroes like Niedermayer, Iginla, Pronger and Brodeur.

But make no mistake, when he steps on the ice he will play as he always does -- like his next shift could be his last.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity, especially for someone at my age and having only been in the league for a couple of years," said Toews. "Every kid playing hockey dreams of playing in the NHL and being one of the greatest players. And to get the chance to represent your country at any level is special, but there's definitely nothing like the Olympics. It's pretty special.

"Who knows how many more times you might get a chance to do something like this? There's a lot of great players that were left off this year and so I definitely want to take advantage of it and help us go after the ultimate goal, which is the gold medal.

"You have to understand," Toews continued, "I still consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity and to have the chance to play pro hockey. It's something I've always dreamed of doing. So when it's time to go to work I want to work hard and take advantage of it."

Captain Toews.

Captain Serious.

Yeah, it fits all right. It fits perfectly.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

The Toews file

Born: April 29, 1988

Hometown: Winnipeg; Resides: Chicago.

Height: 6-1. Weight: 195 lbs.

Position: Centre.

Hockey idol: Wayne Gretzky.

Favourite team growing up: L.A. Kings.

Best hockey memory: Winning the world junior championship gold medal for the first time in Vancouver in 2006.

Favourite TV shows: The Family Guy.

Wears No. 19 because: Former Colorado Avalanche star Joe Sakic and Detroit Red Wing icon/Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman are two of his idols.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2010 C1

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