Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada stands on its Toews

Play of Blackhawks captain has nation watching in wonder

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VANCOUVER -- Jonathan Toews almost made it through the mixed zone, head down as though he was on a breakaway.

And Toews almost made it, too.

"Jon, where you going so fast?" called out ESPN.com reporter Pierre LeBrun, a Hockey Night in Canada fixture.

 

Toews stopped on a dime. Busted.

A national newspaper reporter was waiting, too, along with a local scribbler from Winnipeg. A handful of others gathered around Toews, the Team Canada forward who can't seem to do anything without getting attention these day.

That's what you get for racking up seven points in Team Canada's first five games, only to stop playmaking to shadow the likes of Alexander Ovechkin into the ice.

And to think that baby-faced 21-year-old from St. Vital was once considered a bubble player. Although clearly not by Steve Yzerman and Co., who clearly had Toews higher on their list than many of the usual suspects.

After all, it was probably months ago that Yzerman decided to pencil in Toews as his shutdown centre against the Russians. Trust us, that didn't happen on Tuesday.

So while 20-year-old defenceman Drew Doughty might have entered the Vancouver Olympics as Team Canada's bust-out star, it has been the young Chicago Blackhawks captain who's been turning the most heads with two-way play reminiscent of, well, a grizzled Yzerman in Salt Lake in 2002.

And while Toews may have been happy to duck past the press without notice, he's more than anxious to take on an increased role for a Canadian team preparing to face the upstart Slovakians in tonight's semifinal.

"It's huge," Toews acknowledged. "It's a big stage. You've got to take it upon yourself to try and step up your game and help your team as much as you can. That's all I'm trying to do.

"Obviously, there's a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes watching so it's a tremendous opportunity for any player to be in a situation like this. You've got to ask yourself, 'How many more chances am I going to get like this?' So you have to take advantage of it, really play your best, and enjoy yourself as much as you can."

Toews did have the luxury of coming into Vancouver under the radar. After two games, it was the likes of Joe Thornton and Rick Nash drawing the most heat for failing to pull the trigger. Toews just quietly but efficiently went about his business.

"Surprisingly enough I just feel very prepared coming into these games," he said. "You're going to make mistakes, but there's five other unbelievable hockey players out there with you that are going to help you get out of any tight spot.

"I kind of find myself in a situation where there's not as much pressure on myself, maybe, as some other players, to score. And I just think about playing smart defensively and things kind of happen for me (offensively)."

Toews is symbolic of a short Olympic tournament where, as they say, stuff happens. One game Team Canada is fighting for its life against the mighty Russians. The next they've got only Slovakia -- one of the Games' lesser seeds -- standing between them and Sunday's gold-medal final.

But in the wake of sending the Russians home empty-handed, the storyline out of the Canadian camp was celebration in moderation.

"Everyone around town was pretty excited about that game last night but, hey, we know we're going to be in bigger games than that, including the one (Sunday)," Toews said. "As short as this tournament is, that's what you have to do. Forget about the last one and... get ready for the next one.

"We're still and live and we're still kicking."

And according to Team Canada's Jarome Iginla, a veteran of three Olympics now, the Canadians just might be finding their legs, after coming out and hammering the Russians to fly out to a 3-0 lead on Wednesday, en route to a dominating 7-3 victory.

"I think we've been able to use the energy from the fans, the excitement and channel that pressure into good things," said Iginla. "And make sure we're coming out skating and are physical early. I think earlier in the tournament we started games a little bit slower and got better as we went along.

"When you face elimination you need good starts.

"There's a lot on the line out there. The win felt good... but at the same time it didn't feel like we walked into the room having won the gold medal by any means. We know there's work left to be done."

 

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2010 C4

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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