Rozner: Big effort not new for Blackhawks' Toews

  • Chicago Blackhawks players celebrate their win over the Edmonton Oilers Friday in Edmonton.

    Chicago Blackhawks players celebrate their win over the Edmonton Oilers Friday in Edmonton. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/8/2020 2:29 PM

It's one of those sports clichés that probably predates the Iliad and the Odyssey.

It's about the player who rises to the occasion, who recognizes the spotlight and finds a sudden desire to perform when the stage is at its most elevated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Perhaps it's true in some cases, the player who arrives on the scene when it matters most.

It is not true of Jonathan Toews.

It's a fundamental misunderstanding of who he is, what he has been and how he plays hockey to think that he needs the limelight in order to summon his best, that because it's the playoffs he finds an extra gear and has a greater wish to lift his team.

The truth is he's not trying now to be the man in the big situation. The truth is Toews always wants to win and always tries this hard, always wants to work so hard every shift that he reaches the bench gasping for air.

To see him postgame in the dressing room after a nondescript January game against the Sabres is to understand that he is just as spent then as he is after Game 4 against Edmonton.

Toews leaves everything he has on the ice, regardless of magnitude.

It's just that some nights he has more than other nights. That's the nature of hockey, that there are games when you have your legs and games when you don't.

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And Toews' game at 32 years old isn't as pretty as it was 10 or 12 years ago, certainly not as pretty as some of the game's biggest stars. Toews is rarely going to dazzle anyone or land on a highlight reel. His game is never giving up on a play or a shift and never giving up on a game.

His game is being responsible through three zones, playing 200 feet and outworking the guy trying to tie him up or beat him to a puck.

That is the essence of Jonathan Toews. It always has been.

His game-winning steal and pass Friday night will garner him much attention, but he makes that play 10 times a game. It doesn't always result in a goal for his team, or even a scoring chance, but sometimes it prevents the same in his own end.

Of course, the first question he got Friday night postgame was the "big stage" question and why he's able to rise to the occasion, to which Toews shrugged his shoulders, changed the subject and talked about his teammates instead of himself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Finally, he said, "Just trying to do my part."

His great play to steal a puck and set up Dominik Kubalik for the game-winner is a play he makes so often that you probably don't even notice it anymore.

His 7 points in 4 games will get him some good ink. What's just as impressive are the superb games when he doesn't find his way onto the score sheet and no reporter asks to speak to him after the game.

But his teammates know -- and his coaches most definitely know.

"He has respect in the room," said linemate Brandon Saad after the Hawks' 3-2 victory Friday that eliminated the Oilers. "The biggest thing is you can talk the talk, but when you're going out there and leading by example with his work ethic, everyone buys in."

So many players are defined by their stats, and define themselves by their stats. Toews only knows that in order to win you have to play the right way. Not everyone does it and that means more of a burden for him, not that he would ever admit it.

"He was great," Corey Crawford said of Toews. "He's obviously one of our best players, not just offensively, but he had a big block in the third period when they were pressuring.

"When a leader's doing that, it just follows throughout the lineup."

Great leaders don't care about credit or what people say about them. They simply want to win and Toews will do whatever he can to ensure victory.

"To me, his biggest attribute is his compete level," said Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton. "He wins a 50-50 battle on the winning goal. Just finds a way to come up with the puck and that's the winner."

He may not be as popular as he once was, with social media the last few years demanding its pound of flesh, but the finest captain in sports just goes about his business, sometimes in relative quiet.

It's just the nature of the world that we live in that Toews is suddenly admired again -- trending on Twitter Friday night -- as he often was during three Stanley Cup runs and perhaps most recently when he scored twice in the first 8:52 of Game 7 on the road against Anaheim in the 2015 Western Conference finals.

He is getting on in years and when you play as hard as he has for 13 seasons -- not half the ice, but the entire surface -- his body is not always going to cooperate with his desire, but you saw in the series victory over Edmonton what he can still look like given rest and health.

The Hawks will be up against it from this point on, huge underdogs in the next series and deservedly so against the top seed, but Toews will again do all he can to win each game by doing all he can to win each shift, one ugly board battle at a time.

There will be passengers, just as always, but Toews will go about his job and his effort will never be in question.

It's the only way he knows how to play.

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