Following a productive workout with his teammates on the ice at United Center, Chicago Blackhawks
center Jonathan Toews
skates off the ice and begins his short trek to the locker room.
He knows his day is far from over. There will likely be a dozen or more media members surrounding him just as he reaches the bench to his stall, which is positioned right next to the other young gun on this team, Patrick Kane
If familiarity breeds contempt, Toews certainly doesn't show it. He's a professional in every sense of the word despite the fact he might be asked the same question three times over the course of the 10-minute span. Sure, there are times he provides a stock answer, but he's not afraid to ad lib every now and again.
As the 21-year-old captain of a Blackhawks team to reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Toews has that kind of confidence. He may look at you strange or even offer a smile, but there's no denying the fact he's genuine and true -- much like his game on the ice.
But Toews has hit the proverbial wall this past week following a bout with the flu. After connecting for 2 goals and 6 points in his team's six-game elimination of the Calgary Flames
in the Western Conference quarterfinal, he's accounted for just one assist and a minus-2 rating in three games against the Vancouver Canucks
in the Conference Semifinal.
"You see guys like him … I mean, he was really sick and still played through it which is more than I can say because I sat out a game when I had the flu," Kane said. "Jonathan Toews
is a warrior who loves the game -- he just loves hockey."
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better summation of the 34th captain in franchise history. Still, with his Hawks now trailing 2-1 in this best-of-7 series with the Canucks, one would think Toews would begin feeling a little hot under the collar.
"Driving home after a loss, you tend to think about all the things that went wrong and everything that's negative," Toews said. "It's easy to think that way after a loss but you have to remind yourself not to get to low after a loss just as you do not want to get too high after a win. You want to stay mentally positive and have some fun."
Did he just say fun? Jonathan, these are the playoffs. We're not back in Winnipeg, Manitoba, preparing for a pick-up hockey game on the neighborhood lake.
"Look, it's tough to forget about stuff," he explained. "When you're happy and things are good and you feel like things are going your way, you know darn well that's not the reality of it. You have to put that behind you, learn from it and do your best to prepare for the next game because things might not be as good."
Toews admits the pressure is no different for him than it is on any of his teammates, even though he's the only player with the big letter 'C' stitched on his jersey.
"Every guy in this room is trying to put a little bit more pressure on himself," Toews said. "You have to be thinking that, on any given shift, I might be that guy who scores a big goal or makes a big play that changes things. I feel the same way."
To that end, Toews is confident his best is yet to come. Now whether or not that happens in this series or down the road makes no difference. What does matter is the fact he believes it will happen and that's the sign of a leader.
"I feel my best hockey in this series is still to be played and I'm still thinking there are a lot of ways I can contribute more," he said. "It was a tough loss (in Game 3) but hopefully I can do something here to try to change things and switch the momentum a little bit. You're never satisfied with the way you played or the way things went and, really, this is still a learning experience for a lot of us in here. I felt there were things I could have changed or done differently in certain games that would have resulted in a goal but I'm improving every game."
Kane describes Toews as a player who'll do anything to help a teammate.
"He's a pretty even-keel guy," Kane said. "I think if you looked at video of him in this series, the series against Calgary and the regular season, you would notice he's pretty much the same player every night whether he's scoring goals or fighting for loose pucks.
"He's either contributing on the defensive end or creating plays. Jon is our No. 1 center and probably our best player too, so obviously he's going to be great in the future," Kane continued. "Sometimes you have slumps, I go through them, but it's the way you get out of them and he's certainly broken out quickly when it's happened in the past."
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp
knows Toews is doing all he can to rebound in a big way.
"I don't have any issues with our captain," Sharp said. "He's done a great job all year long and it's playoff time and he's one of our top guys. He's going to be checked hard so we need him to fight through that the best he can and I think he's done a great job. He's not one of those guys who talks all the time in the room about what needs to be done, but he can assess a situation and know when the right time is to speak up."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.