WINNIPEG -- He always wondered what bringing the Stanley Cup home to Winnipeg would be like, but never in those daydreams did Jonathan Toews picture an estimated 15,000 people would greet him as a hero and the city would rename his own community center in his honor.
Toews' first day with the Cup without question far exceeded his own expectations and dreams.
"You always envision it being such a big deal coming home, but you don't think people will take time and hours out of their lives to come out just to get an autograph or a picture with you," Chicago's captain told NHL.com shortly before he had a quiet family dinner at Earls Restaurant in South St. Vital, a section of Winnipeg. "To them it means the world. That's what makes the Stanley Cup such a special thing and that's what makes you want to win it so bad, so you can share it with other people.
Toews, Cup take a ride (Courtesy Josh Landau)
"You're the lucky one that is able to play the game and do all the fun stuff and they're still equally, if not more passionate about it than you are," he added. "I think that's amazing. It means so much to people. It changes lives. It definitely has a positive effect on all people."
The day had an effect on Toews, who was definitely out of his element as the center of attention. He is that way in Chicago, too, but at least there he has teammates such as Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to take some of the spotlight away, and other professional athletes from the Bulls, White Sox, Cubs and Bears to steal the show, too.
Here in Winnipeg, it's all about Toews, the 22-year-old luminaries such as Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz are now calling the city and province's favorite son.
"Those guys are cool people, smart and intelligent leaders, and to get praise like that from people like that it's a huge compliment," Toews said.
What shocked Toews the most about his first day with the Cup was when Katz publicly informed him in front of thousands of fans that the Dakota Community Centre would now be known as the Jonathan Toews Community Centre.
It's an honor usually bestowed on those in the community that have spent their lives accomplishing their goals, or a lot of the times on dead people that did just that.
Toews only turned 22 in April, but he is already a Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic champion, a World champion and a World Juniors champion. You can't really do much more.
"That's where I grew up and I'm still waiting to see what my buddies' reactions are, guys that are still my close friends that I grew up playing hockey with over there at a young age," Toews said with a laugh. "We'll maybe have a laugh later or I'll take some heat from the boys. That was something that blew me away. It's definitely not something I thought could happen, or at least definitely not at this age."
Toews admitted that driving past that community center, which is located roughly five minutes from his parents' house, will never be the same.
"I guess not really," he said. "Every time you come home at the end of every season things change, whether it's the landscape of the city or the people that you grew up with, and now obviously that's one of them. The memories are always there."
Toews, though, seemed a bit uneasy with some of the hype over him. He said it was particularly awkward along the parade route, which stretched over a mile from Ecole-Christian Lesperance (his old elementary school) to the formerly named Dakota Community Centre, when his old high school buddies came up to shake his hand and offer him some well wishes.
"I'll tell you what was weird, seeing some of my high school buddies out on the parade route and here is me parading past them," he said. "That was awkward."
Toews handled it deftly, just as he does the puck. He signed as many autographs as he could and gave thousands of kids a story they can one day tell their own children.
"This is the great things that come along with it," Toews said. "It definitely means a lot and it means that people care about me and support me, and that's the most important thing. All the hype, that's just added, extra stuff."
Toews second day with the Cup will begin at a golf tournament that he is sponsoring at Pine Ridge Golf Course. It's called the Jonathan Toews Fore Kids Golf Classic and proceeds will go to The Rehabilitation Centre for Children, Manitoba's core service provider for over 15,000 children.
Toews will later visit a rehab center and a children's hospital before spending Monday night hanging out with his buddies and the Cup.
He'll likely be chased wherever he goes because it's obvious by now that Winnipeg loves him.
"Obviously there are expectations and demands from certain people, and it's tough to keep everyone happy, but you try the best you can because they're giving you all they can as fans," Toews said.