Between The Dots: Mikita says Toews is total package
Stan Mikita was watching from a United Center suite, bustling with wife Jill and friends, when one of the Hall of Fame center’s many landmarks was eclipsed Friday night. Jonathan Toews deftly provided the puck to Patrick Sharp, who converted for a power play goal in the second period—well before the Blackhawks would beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2 in overtime, to seize a 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven Western Conference final. With his assist, Toews registered at least a point in his 12th consecutive playoff game, breaking Mikita’s franchise record set in 1962.
“I had no idea I held it until the other day,” said Mikita, who celebrated what he labeled as the 35th anniversary of his 35th birthday Thursday. “I didn’t remember doing it, and I certainly didn’t remember what year. If I’d have known it would have lasted this long, I would have gone into management then and asked for a little more money. Maybe I could have gotten an extra $20. I’m happy for Jonathan. Before it’s all over he’s going to have a lot of records around here.”
Toews later paid homage to Mikita as a “great player and great person,” but otherwise relegated his accomplishment to background music. Game 4 is Sunday. Next question.
“That’s the way he is,” said Mikita. “Jonathan is not about himself. But he’s got everything. He’s big, he can skate, he’s strong, he handles the puck and he can pass it. I’ve even seen him block shots. We might have to talk him away from that, though. If you asked me who Toews reminds me of, I would say Jean Beliveau, which is high praise. He was a great player, captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
“When they named Jonathan captain here at such a young age, I thought they might be putting him under the gun a little early. But the more you see of him, and listen to him, it’s obvious he’s the right guy. Whenever he talks about the Blackhawks, it’s always ‘we’ or ‘team.’ Jonathan is 21 going on 31, as far as maturity. They call him "Captain Serious," but I’m sure he’s got some smiles put away for when he’s ready.
“As a team guy, Toews reminds me a lot of Maggie (Keith Magnuson). Maggie didn’t smile a lot, either, except when he was away from the rink. Maggie was a lot more rah-rah than Jonathan appears to be, and Maggie got the absolute most out of his ability. Think of it. Toews has just signed a long-term deal at his age to be with a franchise that’s growing and winning. He could be captain here for a long time. The only thing that could spoil it is an injury. You don’t have to worry about his character. He could have signed for $50 million and it wouldn’t change his attitude or his effort. Somebody coached him real well, starting right with his parents.”
Mikita not only didn’t have a handle on his playoff scoring record. He can’t quite pinpoint when he was captain of the Blackhawks, the only franchise for whom he ever played.
“But I saw a picture of me with a ‘C’ on the jersey, so I must have been captain at some point,” he said. “Somebody must have gotten injured, because I can’t think of any other reason. It wasn’t a role that I wanted. Plus, we had some great captains during my time. Pierre Pilote, Ed Litzenberger, Maggie, to name a few. I don’t know Jonathan real well. I’m away a lot of the winter and he’s busy.
“If he ever wants to sit down and talk over lunch, just the two of us, that would be great. I would never push something like that or initiate it. It would have to come from him. I don’t think he wants to hear about the old days, and it’s not like he needs a lot of advice. You see the way he conducts himself in public, always respectful of his teammates and the group. I don’t know what he’s like in the locker room when the doors are closed, but I’m guessing he’s one of those guys everybody else pays attention to when he has something to say.”
Mikita is not one of those golden oldies who believes the old days were the only days.
“Oh, Jonathan could play back when we played,” said Mikita. “How would I rate him compared with me? I’d say he probably is a better skater. He has a better wrist shot. And a better backhand. I had a better slap shot, but I also had the curved blade going for me. I’d give him a tussle for passing the puck, but there’s no way you could compare where I was at 21 with where he is. Don’t forget. Three months ago he was the star for Canada’s gold medal team in the Winter Olympics. When I was his age, I was spending a lot of time in the penalty box. I felt like guys were trying to run me out of the league. My daughter Meg said to me after watching a game on TV, ‘Daddy, why are you always sitting by yourself?”
Stan Mikita was sitting among 22,311 rabid fans Friday night and shortly after Toews arranged that tying goal, the Jumbotron showed Mikita in his box—with Bobby Hull next door, and Tony Esposito in the background. Denis Savard, the Blackhawks’ fourth ambassador, also was circling the building on an electric evening.
Mikita got an ovation and a song for his birthday. After Dustin Byfuglien won it 12:24 into overtime, Mikita the legend wended his way downstairs to visit briefly with Captain Serious.
“I’m really enjoying this,” said Mikita. “This organization has been great to us old guys, and it’s in good shape with young guys like Jonathan. Lots of pressure on a team captain, especially these days. But this kid can handle it. Now if you’ll excuse me, Jill is waiting in the car.”