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Blackhawks Magazine Excerpt: From Russia with Lanyards

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

The following is excerpted from the March 2014 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.

For two weeks in February, players from around the world donned their countries’ colors to battle for gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics. At stake for the 10 Blackhawks players who made the long journey to Sochi was national pride — and bragging rights amongst teammates.

Ten Blackhawks returned from the 2014 Winter Olympics in good health. Six came back to work with medals that will provide a lifetime of memories.

For Canada, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp earned gold. For Sweden, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger took silver.

Patrick Kane for the United States, Michal Rozsival for the Czech Republic and Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus for Slovakia also participated in a grand competition that was priceless because it was steeped in pride.

And now we return to regularly scheduled programming, wherein the Blackhawks will attempt to defend the Stanley Cup, led by a man who their fans think of as the most complete player in all of hockey. They are biased, for sure. Also, they might be onto something.

Like James Bond in the 1963 thriller “From Russia with Love,” Toews figured it all out under intense pressure and found himself in precisely the right place, again. As he did four years ago in Vancouver, Toews scored the opening goal in the gold-medal game. In Sochi, it was the eventual winner, as Canada suffocated Sweden 3-0 on a late Sunday afternoon.

The redirect off a feed from Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings on an extended shift in tight quarters sent Toews to one knee, with an emphatic fist pump, followed by the first of his many smiles shared by an entire nation. It was Toews’ only tally of the tournament, but as is his wont, he was everywhere for a star-studded team that never trailed in six straight victories, one that brought Canada its first repeat of Winter Olympics supremacy since 1952, when a country fixated on this sport was represented by the Edmonton Mercurys.

Toews started and finished games, took important faceoffs, played with various linemates, skated in all situations. When he lost his stick in Canada’s end during their semifinal conquest of Team USA, he used his feet and “soccered” the puck out of danger, as described by Hall of Fame broadcaster Doc Emrick on NBC. The Blackhawks captain embodied the passion that rendered Canada — with superior speed, heft and dedication — unbeatable. Even that 1-0 decision over the Americans seemed an unusually comfortable 1-0.

How so? Defense and discipline. Keith excelled on a shutdown pairing with Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, killed penalties and quarterbacked power plays, and finished with a +6 plus/minus rating as Canada chloroformed their opponents. In five games, goalie Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens yielded three goals — and none in the medal rounds. His backup, Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, pitched a shutout. Price, unscathed in his final 164-plus minutes, lauded the dedicated effort in front of him.

“This is what we play for — Stanley Cups and gold medals,” said Keith, who has two of each and was one of 11 returnees from the champion team in Vancouver, where he, Toews and Brent Seabrook reaped gold.

Sharp, devoted to qualifying for his first Olympics from day one of the NHL season, scored a huge goal in a 2-1 triumph over Latvia in the quarterfinals. How deep was Canada’s expanded roster of 25 NHL luminaries? When Sharp did not dress for a 6-0 preliminary rout of Austria, Head Coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings pled the fifth — with a touch of nolo contendere — about his rotation of forwards. Said Babcock, “You tell an athlete he competed right, he did things right, and yet he’s not playing. If you’re Sharpie, you’re a high, high-end player. I grab him when he’s walking in to tell him he’s not playing. Doesn’t ask me why. It’s good he doesn’t ask me why, because I’ve got no reason why.”

And Sharp had no complaints.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “This was pretty special. I’m thankful I got chosen to the team, and I’m really proud to be here. To have a gold medal around my neck is pretty cool.”

That attitude was pervasive. On a Canadian team with six other NHL captains besides Toews, egos were shelved for selflessness. Chemistry problems? Goaltending? Those issues were raised by fretting pundits prior to Sochi. Instead, Canada improved as the event progressed and ran the table to win its first Winter Olympics overseas since the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway, and ninth gold overall.

“We’re just an amazing team to watch, the way we work together,” said Toews. “It’s amazing to see the guys that have the raw talent and ability commit themselves to doing all the things right. We knew that’s what it was going to take in this tournament to win the championship, and guys were willing to do that.”

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