Verdi on the 3 C's of Captain Toews
If there is a hitch in this "Captain Serious" story, besides the fact that Jonathan Toews does not exactly embrace the nickname, it is the message imparted by such an appellation.
Being designated as serious, the Blackhawks prodigy might come across to the masses as a grave and solemn individual who, by extension, leads a locker room that is joyless or tense, spreading pins and needles in his path.
In fact, the defending champions have earned two Stanley Cups over four years and are pursuing a third in five not only with a deep and talented roster, but because their pedigree is poise and composure. After a dramatic Game 6 overtime victory dismissed the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the playoffs, Chicago's boys of winter celebrated Patrick Kane's soft hands that roofed the clinching goal.
But when a wave of interrogators and cameras entered the visitors' quarters at Xcel Energy Center, the prevailing soundtrack was that of showers being taken by relieved athletes. As Kane described his genius, there stood Toews nearby, praising teammates while reminding all that being halfway to another parade meant halfway to nowhere unless the job is finished. He might as well have been discussing dinner plans.
At 26, Toews already is the most decorated captain in franchise history, with two rings framing a trophy case that includes a pair of Olympic gold medals with Team Canada, plus similar rewards from World Championships and World Juniors. But it's his ravenous hunger to win again and do better that elevates Toews to the pantheon of special National Hockey League players, then or now.
"He brings it every night," said Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks' Hall of Fame senior advisor to hockey operations and possessor of 13 Stanley Cup rings. "It's one thing to have ability, but another to compete. You are not going to out-compete Jonathan. He plays in all situations. Power play, the penalty kill, five-on-five, faceoffs.
"He's a big guy. You see him out of uniform; he's strong, thick. But again, he takes that body to all the tough areas. He plays the whole rink, and he's usually against the other team's top line. He's got everybody's respect -- his own guys, guys throughout the league. Never causes problems, and is a tremendous representative for the Blackhawks and hockey. Carries himself well, speaks well. Even speaks perfect French. Got it all."
Why Toews is not among the three finalists for 2014 Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable player seems a mystery, one that Bowman attempts to unravel by noting that the Blackhawks contain multiple stars. Thus, there is not a "beacon of light" on Toews, according to Bowman, who theorizes that extraordinary mates on the same team might "take votes from each other … Not that it matters to him."
Bowman, however, volunteers that Toews is likely the most complete player in the sport and one around whom you would build a roster if everybody were declared a free agent tomorrow. Selflessness and responsibility are paramount to Toews, who one suspects could collect 40 goals every season if he weren't so mindful of the risk-reward quotient that bellows "None against" inside his helmet.
Ah, but when the Blackhawks need to score, Toews so often provides the last touch in the clutch. Already, he has registered four game-winning goals this postseason, and 10 for his career, a franchise record. One of his heroes, Wayne Gretzky, retired with 24 in 208 games. Another Toews role model, Joe Sakic, had 19 in 172. Toews has played only 87 career games through the first two rounds of the 2014 playoffs.
Head coach Joel Quenneville raves about Toews as the consummate ombudsman to connect between management and labor, the glue for a together group. When your captain owns a superior work ethic, reasons Q, you are blessed. Where Toews developed his values is not a riddle, not if you spend 10 minutes with parents Bryan and Andrée. Solid family, with tales to tell. Heard about when Jonathan was 11 and had a buddy come to their house in Winnipeg? Jonathan had his gym clothes on. Let's do push-ups!
"It's an honor to be captain of this team," said Toews. "But a leader? They call you a leader, I guess, because you have a 'C' on your chest. But we've got lots of leaders."
It was Brent Seabrook who coined "Captain Serious." He found Toews in a snarly mood one bygone day, and did that label ever stick. Jonathan could be tagged "Captain Consistent" or "Captain Complete," but that would deprive the guys of a launchpad. Bryan Bickell insists that Toews is mellowing, but Kris Versteeg claims there are still ways to elicit a frown and an eye roll from No. 19.
"We see the other side of Jonathan, off the ice," said Versteeg. "Believe me. He's serious fun, fun serious."
• Editor's note: Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi also writes for the team's website at www.chicagoblackhawks.com.