The following is excerpted from the December edition of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the latest issue at all Blackhawks home games, starting Dec. 16 vs. Anaheim, and at the Blackhawks Store by calling (800) GO-HAWKS.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and the Blackhawks were feeling like targets in a turkey shoot. They were coming off a 1-0 defeat in San Jose, which followed serial slapdowns in Calgary and Edmonton. Then, for a Friday matinee before a packed Honda Center in Anaheim, the visitors trailed 2-0 quicker than that young lady would sing the national anthem the next night in Los Angeles.
Simply put, the Blackhawks were well on their way to a fourth consecutive Circus Trip defeat. The situation was grim ‹ but not hopeless. And now, we take you to their leader.
"Our team needed a spark," recalls Jonathan Toews. "You try in that situation to have an effect on what's happening, to unleash a train of events."
What the superstar captain did as chief engineer of a remarkable comeback is as follows: He assisted on a first period goal, then scored twice in the third and assisted on two other goals. Five points later -- an individual career high -- the Blackhawks prevailed 6-5. One got the notion that this was a game Toews would not allow his team to lose. One would broach the idea with him, however, and stand corrected.
"Just trying to unleash a train of events," Toews repeated, in case it had been missed the first time. "Sharpie had a hat trick, right? Didn't Patrick get three that afternoon? Think so."
Vintage Toews, who construes self-absorption as a felony. When conversation turns toward him, he doesn't end it. He just reroutes it. On this matter, as with virtually every other matter pertaining to his existence, Captain Serious is Captain Consistent. The game face belongs on Mount Rushmore, the pattern of speech in public is unremarkable, and the big-money era during which he performs contrasts with the throwback mentality.
"He's got it, and he gets it," says Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks senior advisor of hockey operations whose next Stanley Cup will be his 13th. "And when you have what Jonathan has, age doesn¹t matter. It's the person, not the birth certificate."
Toews, 23, is a leader. You don't teach that or learn it or plan on making it a New Year's resolution. You are born with it. Most of us are followers. We think we're taking the dog for a walk, but it's actually the dog taking us for a walk. That isn't wrong; that's just reality. And then there are the chosen few such as Toews. He's done it all, except for what he has to do tomorrow.
He says he 'absolutely' enjoys being captain of the Blackhawks, which is obvious. He says there is "never a simple day" in his side job, which is understandable. He says there are "added responsibilities" to wearing the 'C', which is endemic to the role. But when you dig deeper with Toews, you are on your own.
"They call you a leader, I guess, because you have a 'C' on your chest," says Toews.
Actually, it¹s the other way around. You have a 'C' on your chest because you're a leader. When Ted Williams became a manager and was asked how to hit a curve ball, he said, well, you just hit it. When Ben Hogan was asked how to draw a golf ball, he said, well, you just draw it from right to left. So it is that Toews, when probed about his presence, says that he would operate no differently if he hadn't been the second youngest captain in National Hockey League history to lift a Stanley Cup.
Which is probably true. Which is why he is who he is and where he is. How Toews developed his work ethic is no mystery, at least not to him. Father Bryan and mother Andrée, retired now, sacrificed endlessly when Jonathan and brother David took to skates as kids in Winnipeg. His parents didn't so much monitor goals and assists as they studied effort.
"Particularly mom," says Jonathan.
If he wasn't working hard enough, he heard about it. Perhaps his perpetual drive was generated by a concern of spreading disappointment.
But on the Blackhawks, he adds stridently, it's different. Teammates do not bust into corners where angels fear to tread because they are reluctant to let him down.
"No," he says. "It's not that at all. We're all for each other here. Nobody wants to let anybody else down. Not with this group. That has nothing to do with me."