Rozner: Toews' leadership of Blackhawks legendary
There are athletes who love the big stage.
Some of them are among the greatest who have ever performed in any sport, like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
They love the big moment, revel in a worldwide audience and drink in the adulation.
A big crowd only means more adrenaline, a bigger reason to be better than everyone else.
They don't shrink from the big moment because they are able to slow the game down, stay in the moment and not have it feel as large to them as it is to everyone else.
Yeah, the stage is huge, but in the moment they are simply doing what they always do.
It is habit. Practice, repeat. Practice, repeat. Practice, repeat.
It's not an easy thing to describe or understand, unless you've thrived under pressure -- or choked under the weight of it. Then, you understand it too well.
Jonathan Toews does not love the big stage. You've heard dozens of times in the last week that he does, but it implies that he wants the glory, that he wants that stage. It implies ego and a hint of necessary selfishness.
And that's a complete misunderstanding of who Toews is and what he does.
That Toews performs in the big moment and on the big stage does not mean that he craves that stage.
It's actually quite the opposite. Toews doesn't want a stage -- unless he's sharing it with his teammates and they're holding up a big silver bucket.
The truth is Toews performs in the big moment because he feels a responsibility to perform. He feels it is his job to lead and his job to get it done.
Hockey is a hard game, a painful game and sometimes quite debilitating, and when you get this deep in the postseason some players are downright scared. But Toews was born to lead and that's what he does when followers aren't sure what to do.
He goes out and leads and gets it done. He doesn't care who's watching or what headlines he can grab. He merely wants to win the game and then win the next one, and if he has to be the one to get it done, then fine, he'll go out and do just that.
It's about the winning. Nothing else.
It doesn't mean the notion of "big-stage players" is a fantasy, because it most certainly is not. It just means that the magnitude of it is irrelevant to Toews, outside of the fact that he feels as captain that it's his obligation to be the best player when his team needs its best players to lead the way.
Toews, and players like him on the Hawks, make an unspoken commitment to one another when they sacrifice for the team, willing to give every ounce of themselves in an attempt to win a game.
When your best player shows the way with that commitment, it's impossible to ignore and the rest follow suit. It so happens that the Hawks have several very talented players who bring the same commitment.
When that happens, you win Game 7 on the road against a great team and you reach three Stanley Cup Final series in six seasons.
"I think across the group, our leadership group, we kind of want to own up to each other and be accountable to each other," Toews explained. "We have a great leadership group that everyone responds to.
"Everyone wants to contribute and step up and bring their best game. As an individual, that's all you can ask for. You let the chips fall."
Toews mentioned as well the names of Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa. They are highly-skilled hockey players who have come together -- and grown together -- to discover their strongest effort when it matters most.
"They have that ability to rise to the occasion and just find a way no matter what," Keith said. "Whether it's just that belief, but always just knowing, they're going to get it done. They're going to find a way.
"I think that rubs off on a lot of guys."
This is no small matter when it comes to winning. It takes a great leader to win championships and there isn't one better than Toews in all of sports. There are more talented players to be sure, but when you add Toews' desire for winning to his world-class ability, you have something generational.
So now the Hawks take on the Lightning, on his sport's biggest stage, under the Stanley Cup's brightest lights, with the loudest outside noise.
And Toews isn't affected by any of that. He simply wants to win.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.