World Juniors Feature: Jonathan Toews
LEKSAND, Sweden - His face was bloodied on his first shift of the World Junior Hockey Championship but that wasn't about to stop Jonathan Toews from doing what he does best for Canada's National Junior team.
Toews is a key player on the Canadian juniors and the Blackhawks' first round pick, third overall, last June, is the embodiment of Canadian hockey. He is an unselfish player who does what it takes to win.
"He is probably a coach's dream and he will be a coach's dream in the NHL," said Canada's Head Coach, Craig Hartsburg. "He is very intense and he wants to do what is right for the team and he practices the same way. He comes to practice to improve. He comes to practice to get better and he is just going to get better and better because of it."
There is a reason why Hartsburg isn't worried about such high praise swelling Toews' head. It just won't happen. There is no ego. Just hard work shift after shift, game after game, night after night.
Toews is intense. He bangs his stick on the ice at practice when he doesn't do a drill as well as he thinks he should. He leads by example on and off the ice.
"That ferocity ... I'm looking at him right across the hallway right now and he's still got that look in his eye," linemate Ryan O'Marra said. "He's intensely focused.
"A lot of the players can look at him and say, 'Look at how focused Johnny is and that's why he's having success.' He's a leader in that respect in leading by example."
Hartsburg sees the hunger in Toews and loves it.
"He's just got big eyes, bright eyes," Hartsburg said. "He wants information, he wants to be taught. He wants to be coached. He loves his teammates, he talks to them on the bench. He competes, pays a big price and he's got skill."
Toews is what hockey people call "an honest player" and it really doesn't get any better than that.
Think back to Canada's second game of the tournament against the United States. Canada was nursing a 3-2 lead when a charging Toews stripped Erik Johnson of the puck at the U.S. blue line for a clear path to the net. Johnson threw his stick in desperation and Toews was awarded a penalty shot. Toews scored his second goal of the night on what was the turning point of the game and Canada went on to win 6-3.
Toews' work ethic is admired by his teammates, and he's the same off the ice. Toews is the ultimate team player and is most definitely NHL captain material.
"His main goal is to help this team be successful and every game ands every shift he will do his best to achieve that," said teammate Kris Russell.
That drive to get better every day started at an early age. When Toews was a 10-year-old growing up in Winnipeg, someone told him how NHL legend Guy Lafleur would skate in the middle of the night. Toews decided he'd do the same thing so at 3 a.m. in a blistering cold winter morning, he slipped on his skates and headed out to the backyard rink.
"My dad woke up, came out and said, 'What the heck are you doing out here?"' Toews said. "Then I called it quits because I was freezing and I couldn't move."
After playing minor hockey in Winnipeg, Toews went to the elite Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in the United States. He led the team in scoring in his second year, with 110 points in 63 games, and Shattuck St. Mary's won the U.S. national Under-18 title. His next stop was the University of North Dakota, and he is in his second year with the team.
"Shattuck St. Mary's was an important part of my life. That's where I really learned how to be part of a team," he says. "Everyone on that team when we won a championship had a role. We rolled four lines and everyone was going and that is where I learned to have that attitude for whatever team I played for."
Toews has been a member of Hockey Canada's program of Excellence for years. He is one of three players to win the World Under-17 Challenge, a summer Under-18 tournament and a world junior championship in a 12-month period.
"I try to be a coachable player and a guy who is going to try to understand that every coach you are going to play for has something you can learn from," says Toews. "I have tried to have that attitude over the years and try to take something from everybody.
"Personally I try to be part of the team and I go out there trying not to make plays that will be costly to my team or show my teammates that I am unreliable on the ice."
Before the draft, Toews had a hunch the Blackhawks were interested in him and he was thrilled when his name was called for the third overall pick.
Toews didn't attend what would have been his first NHL camp in order to retain his college eligibility and return to North Dakota.
"A lot of buddies were saying, 'What the heck were you thinking?"' Toews says. "I think a lot of people respected my decision. A lot of people questioned it too. I think it was the right thing for me."
But make no mistake about it. Toews has his heart set on slipping a Chicago Blackhawks uniform over his shoulders "in the near future."
"I am looking forward to playing for the Blackhawks," he says.
Here's thinking the feeling is mutual.