In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Steve Yzerman, general manager of Canada's 2010 gold medal-winning Olympic team, discusses the forward who was voted the tournament's best: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
As a league today, we are fortunate to have some great young players in the game, who are exciting, skilled and have good personalities, as well. They represent the NHL extremely well, and respect the traditions and the game that we love. They’re important to our league. Jonathan Toews should be counted among those players, in both how he plays the game, and how he conducts himself on and off the ice.
"85 YEARS" SERIES
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Bobby Hull, by Pierre Pilote
> Patrick Kane, by Denis Savard
> Eddie Olczyk, by Pat Foley
> Stan Mikita, by Bob Verdi
> Doug Wilson, by Tony Esposito
> Eddie Belfour, by Darren Pang
> The Pony Line, by Harvey Wittenberg
> Pierre Pilote, by Glenn Hall
One of the first times I got to watch him play was in 2007 in the World Championships in Russia. Even though he was still with North Dakota at the time, he played very well there. When we began scouting for the Canadian 2010 Olympic team, we had penciled him in very early and by the time we named the team it was pretty unanimous that he was worthy of being in our top 13.
Just in watching him, Jonathan’s such a good all-around player; good on faceoffs, good on the power play, good on the sideboards. Just a strong all-around hockey player who we knew could work on any line for us in the Olympics.
Regardless of what team you’re playing for, everybody takes pride in playing for their country. And it’s no secret that playing for Team Canada with the Olympics held in Vancouver just added to the special nature of the event that year. International play is very exciting – every player really enjoys it.
Throughout the Olympic tournament, Jonathan was very noticeable, and was a good fit wherever we asked him to play. The two best forwards in that tournament might have been Toews and Patrick Kane, and they were both really, really good.
When it came down to the Gold Medal game against the U.S., both sides came into the game playing at their peak. It was a very good hockey game… I think we were leading in the first and into the second, but the U.S.A. played really well and Ryan Miller was excellent for them. It was 2-0 and they scored to cut our lead in the 2nd. We had several good chances in the 3rd period to put the game away in the closing minutes, but we couldn’t quite get that two-goal lead back, and they got the game to overtime.
We had a sense that this was going down to the wire and somebody was going to have to make a big save at the end. It was an exciting game, a tense game, and one I’m not surprised that it was tied down the stretch.
Winning the Gold for our country was something we all took pride in, and it took our entire team playing their best to achieve that goal.
Playing in the Olympics in February is pretty intense. It’s an extremely high level of hockey, and it spurs players on to play at a higher level for the rest of the season. Youngsters get more experience and confidence, and it can rejuvenate a veteran. If you play well, you come out of it feeling sky-high and you’ve elevated your play. I think you saw that from some of our guys – many of them took their teams deep into the playoffs that postseason, and several of them, including Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, wound up playing for the Stanley Cup.
Around the league today, Jonathan is recognized as a real leader, but he’s always been that. Jonathan is a very mature young man, and very serious about what he does. At such a young age, he’s a strong team leader and very confident in himself. It showed in that tournament.
He’s done it at every level in important games – whether it was in junior, college, the NHL and internationally. He’s comfortable in those situations, and that’s a big part of his game.
He’s a smart player and an extremely competitive guy, and he thrived in that situation. He enjoys a challenge and I think he’s really a competitive young man.
Jonathan is still a really young guy, but he’ll keep getting better and better. It’s his personality; he’s serious, he’s driven and he plays so well that players follow his example. He has an extremely bright future ahead of him.