This is Toews’ team

Crosby likely to wear ‘C’ in Sochi, but Black­hawk the real leader

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE -

CALGARY — Jonathon Toews won’t ad­mit to this be­ing the plan, but it would not be sur­pris­ing to find what has tran­spired the last few years was writ­ten down some­where long ago.

Olympic gold medal. Stan­ley Cup. An­other Stan­ley Cup. Top-player sta­tus. In a wild rush span­ning less than four years, Toews has gone from pre­co­cious to pre-em­i­nent.

Cap­tain of the Chicago Black­hawks, top for­ward at the 2010 Olympics, Conn Smythe win­ner in 2010 and a lock to be one of the top cen­tres on Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

When it comes to hockey, no one has it as good as Toews right now.

Toews scoffs at the no­tion he’s ex­e­cut­ing his own mas­ter plan, but the will and force he ex­hibits on a nightly ba­sis in the NHL sug­gests dif­fer­ent.

Re­ally, does Jonathan Toews leave any­thing to chance? Sure, he can’t guar­an­tee the re­sults he wants but Toews isn’t a starry-eyed dreamer that lets the world turn which­ever way it wants. No, Toews tries to turn the world in his di­rec­tion, and lately, he’s been more suc­cess­ful than any other player.

This will, this de­ter­mi­na­tion, makes Toews the nat­u­ral leader of Team Canada, re­gard­less of any of­fi­cial des­ig­na­tion.

“It’s all part of the plan. It’s go­ing per­fectly so far,” laughed Toews, mo­ments af­ter run­ning around street-hockey style as part of Team Canada’s Olympic ori­en­ta­tion camp in Calgary. “No, I don’t think you can plan on it. Lots of play­ers don’t get to win the Stan­ley Cup once, let alone twice. When we won in 2010 we joked about do­ing a few things dif­fer­ently the next time we won it, but we never would have guessed it would hap­pen again so quickly. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a great group of guys that want to win and an or­ga­ni­za­tion in Chicago that will do the things needed to win. You have the op­por­tu­ni­ties, it’s up to you to make sure they don’t slip by.”

Team Canada coach Mike Bab­cock said Mon­day he had some thoughts on who his cap­tain would be in Sochi, but he hadn’t made a fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion. Toews fig­ures in that slight reser­va­tion. Sid­ney Crosby is the con­sen­sus pick to be cap­tain, but maybe Toews is bet­ter suited for the role.

In seven in­stances wear­ing a Team Canada jersey, Toews has won gold six times. He has the knack of be­ing able to do what­ever his team needs him to do at the right mo­ment.

Many will ar­gue — and I’m firmly in this camp — at this mo­ment in time, Toews is the best player in the world. Durable, clutch and com­plete. He is The Fran­chise in Chicago and maybe Canada, too.

Crosby is an of­fen­sive ge­nius, but his de­fen­sive game is lack­ing. And while he leads with his play, he’s not ex­actly Abe Lin­coln when it comes to or­a­tory skills.

Toews took a strong stand dur­ing the lock­out and is never afraid to speak his mind. It’s not hard to imag­ine him get­ting up in the dress­ing room and set­ting things straight.

Toews, who is just com­ing down from the high of win­ning the Stan­ley Cup last sea­son, says the chance to win and the op­por­tu­nity to wear a Cana­dian jersey must al­ways be cher­ished.

“You grow up dream­ing of th­ese chances,” said Toews, who fixes his brown eyes on who­ever asks him a ques­tion and digs for thoughtful and opin­ion­ated an­swers. “I was lucky enough to play in Van­cou­ver and it was the high­est mo­ment in my ca­reer at the in­ter­na­tional level.

“Win­ning a gold medal at the Olympics and win­ning a Stan­ley Cup are dif­fer­ent. As an NHL player, it’s the high­est pro­fes­sional level and I’d say the Olympics is the next thing. To be able to rep­re­sent your coun­try, es­pe­cially Canada, where ev­ery sin­gle per­son around our coun­try is watch­ing that team, there’s a lot of pres­sure and re­spon­si­bil­ity to show you be­long. To win a gold medal is a great feel­ing in that re­gard. Win­ning a Stan­ley Cup is more of a team as­pect, where you’re with the same guys ev­ery day.”

Asked about the dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ing an Olympics in Canada ver­sus one over­seas and it was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent Toews rel­ishes the chal­lenge of go­ing to Rus­sia and win­ning.

“We’re al­ways pretty com­fort­able and cosy on our home turf, but there’s a spe­cial bond­ing when you go over­seas,” he said. “You’re the op­po­nent and the bad guy over there. But for the guys that get to go there and want to do what it takes to win gold, there will be no ex­cuses.”

Bab­cock can’t go wrong se­lect­ing Crosby as his cap­tain. But it should sur­prise no one if Toews is the de facto leader re­gard­less of the let­ter on his jersey.

This is Jonathan Toews’ time. And this will be his team, too.

GARY LAW­LESS

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