-- Jonathan Toews
' star has ascended so rapidly that at only 22 years old, the Winnipeg native not only is one of the faces of the new NHL, but he's also the face and spokesperson for a partnership between the League and the store that played a major role in making his childhood dream become a reality.
The NHL and Canadian Tire, Canada's leading retailer in hockey equipment, announced a five-year partnership agreement Friday while also introducing the Chicago Blackhawks
' captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the celebrity who will put his name, face and time into making what should be a long-lasting relationship even better.
Toews will be the spokesperson for the NHL and Canadian Tire's sponsorship agreement, but he'll also lead the charge for the newly formed Canadian Tire Hockey School, a first of its kind. The CTHS mainly will be an online resource for kids and their parents, but there also will be six CTHS camps that will focus on teaching kids the skills necessary to make it -- just like Toews' did out of his South St. Vital neighborhood.
The Web site, CanadianTireHockeySchool.ca, launched Friday in conjunction with the announcement of the partnership agreement.
"In so many ways it was a perfect fit for me," Toews told NHL.com. "Canadian Tire is an authentic Canadian place. You can't find a store like this anywhere else. It goes back a long way in my career. My dad got all of his tools here, all of his stuff to fix his car. I got my first pair of skates here, and the list goes on. You can think of a lot of other ideas and things you want to represent, but the way this has come along, it just feels that it was meant to be, especially with the involvement of the whole jumpstart program. That's one of the things I'm all about. I'm trying to give the kids that same dream I had as a kid."
Toews' dream started at his third Christmas when, at only 2 1/2 years old, he received his first pair of skates as a gift from his grandparents. As he mentioned, they were purchased at a Canadian Tire store in Quebec. Toews would make his grandfather help him put his skates on as soon as he woke up, Andree Gilbert, Toews' mother, told NHL.com.
"My dad would say, 'We have to eat breakfast first and then we'll put your skates on,'" Gilbert said. "Jonathan wasn't having that. He would say, 'No, we have to put the skates on first and then we'll eat breakfast.' So my dad would put (Jonathan's) skates on and he would wear them in the house for the rest of the day, walking around pretending he was skating."
Throughout his life Toews has shopped or gone shopping with his parents at a Canadian Tire store, so when his agent, Pat Brisson, brought up the concept of working with the store in conjunction with the NHL, he jumped at the chance.
"Immediately," Brisson told NHL.com. "When the concept became pretty serious I brought it up to Jon and right away he had a great response. We talked about the youth hockey component and he loves that. If you're committing to this kind of program you have to be passionate about wanting to help kids and wanting to give tips because it's going to take lots of his time. He never questioned that part."
The camps will take place throughout the season across Canada, in locations such as Winnipeg, Ottawa, Halifax, N.S., Calgary, Montreal and Mississauga, Ont. Toews will attend as many as his travel schedule allows, but he will be in Winnipeg for the kickoff camp on Sept. 21.
"In so many ways it was a perfect fit for me. Canadian Tire is an authentic Canadian place. You can't find a store like this anywhere else. It goes back a long way in my career. My dad got all of his tools here, all of his stuff to fix his car. I got my first pair of skates here, and the list goes on." -- Jonathan Toews
The Blackhawks just happen to be opening their preseason schedule the next night against the Tampa Bay Lightning
at the MTS Centre. Toews said he's looking forward to getting in front of a group of kids to share some of the knowledge he's picked up over the years.
"You try and relate to the kids as much as you can," he said. "You know there is that will to learn there, and you just gotta make it fun for them, put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes when you're a kid on the ice you don't want to do skill stuff, you want to scrimmage and have fun. It's trying to mix the two together where you learn a lot, but you're out there having a blast."
Toews will have a presence on the website. Mike Arnett, the president of Canadian Tire's retail division, said the site will include tips for parents and kids on everything from taping a stick to how to handle being a hockey mom or dad.
"Because it's principally online it's available to everybody," Arnett told NHL.com. "It helps people equip themselves for the game. It's everything you need to know about hockey."
The site also is where kids can sign up to attend one of the camps.
Arnett said there are roughly 100 spots available at each camp; the demand likely will far exceed the supply, so there will be a random draft and the lucky ones who get picked will get to attend a camp. Various NHL players, alumni and coaches will be instructors at each camp, Arnett said.
"It's a great opportunity for kids to interact with people they have looked up to over the years," Arnett said.
Toews said if anything like this existed when he was growing up and players like Steve Yzerman
or Joe Sakic
, his hockey idols, were part of a camp, he would have done whatever he could to attend.
"I guarantee if something like that happened I'd be able to tell you specific memories from it right now and the affect that would have had on me," Toews said. "I never had that, but I can imagine the difference it would have made."
From a League perspective, Keith Wachtel, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Integrated Sales, said having Canadian Tire on board will broaden the reach the NHL already has in Canada.
"The beauty for us is we have very few companies that have the scale of Canadian Tire," Wachtel said. "What's great about partnering with them is they reach over 90 percent of Canadians with over 400 retail stores across the country and they'll take our brand and bring it to life."
Canadian Tire for years has been the leading retailer of hockey equipment, so it's a natural marriage, Wachtel said.
"Canadian Tire will cover the broad spectrum of Canadians, so it's the mom, dad, kid, grandparents and from that standpoint we love the ability to market to a much broader audience," Wachtel said. "And from a licensing standpoint, they sell our products. Put it all together and you really have a unique partnership and a long-term marriage where we can do some very innovative things together. It's a win-win for everybody."
"He's bilingual, too, so he'll cover the entire country," Brisson said. "It's a great concept."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl