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Toews shows why he's the pride of Winnipeg

by Dan Rosen
WINNIPEG -- Jonathan Toews looked beat, just physically and mentally exhausted. His right hand and his cheekbones had to be hurting from the thousands of autographs he signed and hundreds of pictures he posed for.

But there was no way Chicago's captain was stopping now, not with the time remaining on his dream come true bleeding down toward the end.

"You never know what can happen," Toews told, "so I'll enjoy this while it lasts."

It was just before 3 on Monday afternoon. Minutes earlier, Toews finished up an emotional stop on his Stanley Cup tour in his hometown of Winnipeg at the Children's Rehabilitation Foundation, where kids of all ages lined up in the courtyard with their parents to grab an autograph and take a picture.

Toews greeted every one of them by asking them their name and talking about something personal. Some couldn't speak, but he knew he was doing the right thing by reading the expressions on their faces, the happiness in their glowing, cheek-to-cheek smiles.

"It's easy to tell how happy and excited they are," he said. "It's pretty awesome to see their reaction."

Likewise, Toews didn't have to say anything to express how happy and excited he was during his 48 hours with the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy, trophies he earned by captaining the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years just last month.

Winnipeg wrapped its collective arms around Toews for all of Sunday and Monday, and the playoff MVP drained every ounce of energy and emotion he had into giving back to the community that has given him so much.

"I owe it to these people. They are so happy and are great people and they appreciate the small things in life," Toews said before hopping in his parent's SUV, the one he purchased for them, to go visit a local children's hospital. "To see the excitement on their faces when they get to see the Stanley Cup and to get to share a small moment with you, it's a tiny thing that goes a long way.

"You think about what this day could be like and what you want to do with the Cup, and now it's actually happening. I couldn't picture it going any better than it has."

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger called Toews "a local hero who is now a national hero." Mayor Sam Katz referred to him as "Winnipeg's favorite son."

Hundreds of people showed up at an event at City Hall and thousands more lined the streets of south St. Vital, Toews' old neighborhood, to honor him with a parade.

Premier Selinger named a lake after him and Mayor Katz announced that the Dakota Community Centre, where Toews grew up playing the game, would now be called the Jonathan Toews Community Centre. Toews also received a gold medallion for his Olympic achievement and a key to the city for his efforts.

Toews owns a condo near the University of Winnipeg, but for nine months out of the year he only hears about the support he gets in this city because he is living in Chicago, feeling the admiration from those passionate Hawks' fans.

Experiencing the love of Winnipeg firsthand over these last two days was overwhelming.

"When you're trying to win the Stanley Cup you dream about what it would be like to bring it back home to share with family and friends, and what it would mean to them," Toews said. "But you have to fight off that thought and that feeling when you're in the moment, because the more you think about it the more pressure you put on yourself. This is it. It's special and it's that moment I have been dreaming about. It's really cool."
"I owe it to these people. They are so happy and are great people and they appreciate the small things in life.  To see the excitement on their faces when they get to see the Stanley Cup and to get to share a small moment with you, it's a tiny thing that goes a long way." -- Jonathan Toews

Toews was followed like a rock star. He needed a police escort back to his car after the parade Sunday because fans were chasing after him, screaming his name. During the parade they were converging on the yellow Corvette that carried Toews, the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy like vultures looking for a handshake, a high-five, a wave, anything.

They cheered for him, and chanted his name. Girls would run up to the car and run away screaming to their friends, "I just got a high-five!" Men would run up to the car and run away screaming to their friends, "I just touched the Cup!"

But, as great as it was for Toews to see firsthand the love his city has for him, what made the two days special was the respect he received.

Everybody spoke to expressed admiration for Toews' down home personality, family values and devotion to his own community. He is Winnipeg's biggest sports hero now, but never once has he thought of himself as being any better than any of the 650,000 who live here.

"He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else here," Premier Selinger said. "He can just be a normal guy like everybody else. I think everybody really appreciates that style. He has a long career ahead of him and keeping his skates on the ice, his feet on the ground will really help him in the future."

The one difference between Toews and everyone else is obvious:

He is Winnipeg's biggest superstar.

"What's it like to have a city love you like they do here?" Mayor Katz whispered into his ear.

Captain Serious struggled to answer that one question throughout the two-day adventure. He crashed Monday night in a state of shock over how he was received.

"Really there is not enough time to give as many thank yous as you want," Toews said. "You try to give a little bit of time and a little bit of piece of mind to everybody that shows up, try to express your thanks to them for what they did for you. They're all so pumped and so happy for you, and you can't even ask for that. It's just absolutely amazing."

The community was genuinely thrilled that Toews allowed them to be a part of his celebration.

"This is amazing," said Luke Trimble, 28, who showed up at the Legislature Building wearing a Toews' jersey and a Blackhawks hat -- both got autographed. "He's the biggest thing to come out of Winnipeg, the best hockey player. He's the voice for our generation. Just a good, clean-cut kid."

Ryan Dech, a fan at City Hall, concurred.

"In my opinion, from what I've seen, it's been absolutely electric," said Dech, who attended the celebration Sunday with his brothers, Travis and Kyle. "I know I was, and all my buddies were, looking forward to this day when we got to see him with the Cup."

"It's just exhilarating having everybody come together to see this," Kyle Dech added. "It's amazing. It's just electric. Everything is so cool."

They chanted his name at City Hall and even louder during his parade. Hundreds of people held up signs, including Darren Brown, whose read, "Tazer, will you marry my wife?"

"It's common law," Brown told along the parade route. "So, it'd be OK."

Marilyn Klassen-Magnusson was almost in tears as she snapped photos of her son, Cole, swooping Toews' gold medal over his neck. Cole, 11, has mild cerebral palsy.

"Fantastic," Marilyn told "I think I'm more excited. It was thrilling to see Cole have a gold medal around his neck. It makes me well up. It just shows you what a kind, caring person he is. Winnipeg is very proud of him."

Several of Toews' former coaches celebrated with him, and all were swelling with pride, eager to tell a story.

"I scrimmaged with him in his own backyard," Jacques Levesque, the general manager of the Jonathan Toews Community Centre, told "There's a lot of pride here.

"You know what is really funny is that when you're used to watching guys like Gretzky and going back to Bobby Orr, you always put those guys on a pedestal. Now you have Jonathan that deserves to be on that pedestal, but he's just the hometown boy and he hasn't changed."
"If you want to talk about a true hometown hero, about a role model, I'll show you a picture of Jonathan Toews." -- Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz

Levesque recalled the time when his daughter, Katrine, and Toews used to be boyfriend and girlfriend.

"The guy came to my place at 11 years old and we had an adult conversation. Not too many kids that age can hold a conversation back and forth, but he was grown up, a mature kid, focused," Levesque said. "Another time I was at their house and I was laughing with his parents and it was 8:30 on a Thursday night. He came down and he says, 'You guys have to keep it down, I'm trying to sleep.' I'm going, 'Holy smokes, I'm going home at 10 and I have to beat my kids to get them to go to bed, and this guy is telling his parents to stay quiet.' He's phenomenal. He's always been focused. Whatever he has done, he has accomplished and done it well."

Several family friends credited Toews' parents, Bryan and Andree Gilbert, for his character.

"Bryan and Andree have always preached that type of philosophy where you always remember the people you grew up with," said Bob Saelens, one of Toews' former coaches. "His brother David is the same way. They are so friendly and such kind people. You almost wish everybody would have parents that are as good people as they are, very supportive and caring of everyone."

Andree was obviously emotional after Mayor Katz announced the community center would be named in Toews' honor.

"When Jonathan started at 5 years old there was no community center, so they all played in the back. There were four outdoor rinks, and the parents all lined up by the snow banks and we watched our kids freezing out there," she told "Little by little we did fundraising, a lot of people in the community, to build this rink. Now it's named after my son. I had tears in my eyes. I was amazed. Usually you have to be great and die and then they name it after you."

Bryan, who got the honor of carrying both the Cup and Conn Smythe at various moments during the two days, loved hearing Mayor Katz call Toews, "Winnipeg's favorite son."

"That's so cool," Bryan told "Chicago is great and we love it there, but to hear it in your own city, that support, it just means that little bit more. It's unbelievable. To actually fulfill that dream and come here with the Cup, it brought tears to my eyes."

And smiles to thousands of Winnipeggers, who proudly call Jonathan Toews their own.

"If you want to talk about a true hometown hero, about a role model," Mayor Katz said before pausing … "I'll show you a picture of Jonathan Toews."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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