Reunion takes Toews brothers back to childhood days
|Jonathan (L) and David Toews hadn't played on a team together since they were 6 and 4, respectively.|
CHICAGO -- Their "locker room" once was the kitchen.
Their home ice used to be a rink their father made each winter, staying up all night to carefully move an elevated sprinkler around to get the surface just right. There even were lights so they could play at night -- and so their parents could call them in -- and a trail of rubber mats leading out there from the kitchen.
"We'd play 1-on-1 all night," said David, a 21-year old center prospect who recently became teammates with his older brother after the Chicago Blackhawks acquired him from the New York Islanders. "My dad built lights for the rink and you could turn them on and off from inside the house, so when it'd be time for dinner or we'd have to go to bed or something, he'd just flash the lights. We'd try to stay out as long as we could -- until we could hear them yelling from the house for us to come in."
Nobody was yelling for them to come home Tuesday.
The Toews brothers were back together again, this time as Blackhawks teammates, as they played in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Saskatoon, Sask., to open the preseason. The site was the Credit Union Centre, which holds more than 12,000 people, but just being out there together had to be a flashback to their days zipping around their own little rink at home -- the one their dad, Bryan Toews, meticulously built and maintained.
"Every year he'd just get a hose and head out to where he'd build the rink," David said. "Some people would think he was crazy. He'd be up all night. He'd get a ladder and put (a sprinkler) up there and let it spray onto the grass so it'd freeze, and then he'd go and switch the position of the ladder every so often. He put in a lot of work for us and we definitely enjoyed it. It's helped us get our game to where it is today."
Where they are now is pretty impressive.
Jonathan, of course, is one of the League's top young stars. He captained the Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup and also has an Olympic gold medal and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit.
David, meanwhile, is beginning his own pro career.
He spent two injury-plagued seasons playing at the University of North Dakota, then played last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he battled shoulder and ankle injuries. In spite of the aches and pains, he had 20 goals and 48 points in 60 WHL games.
His health is good for the first time in a while, and he hopes it pays off in a strong season of development. David probably will spend the season with the Hawks' American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, while Jonathan will try to lead Chicago to another Cup.
Neither, however, will soon forget this training camp or the game against the Oilers. They were on different scrimmage teams to start camp, so their interactions mostly came away from the rink -- where David is staying at Jonathan's home.
Tuesday, though, they were given a chance to do something they hadn't done since they were little kids. By taking the ice for the Hawks, the Toews brothers played for the same organized team for the first time since David was 4 and Jonathan was 6.
Both still remember that team, even if they can't recall exactly what the name of it was. David seems to think it was the Dakota Panthers.
"It was my first year of playing and I wasn't that great of a skater or anything, so he'd try to skate around and pass me the puck," David said of Jonathan. "He would tell me to go to the net and then try to pass me the puck to get me an empty net. It was a lot of fun."
Jonathan thought so, too.
"I had a year of experience on him," he said. "I just set him up in front of the net and he didn't move too much and ended up scoring a lot of goals. It was a good start to his career."
On Tuesday, with their dad watching from the stands, they only got a couple of shifts together. Still, it was enough to make a fantastic memory for the whole family.
"Who knows if that’ll ever happen again?" Jonathan said a day later. "I think it was a pretty cool thing. Not too many people get the chance to do that, where everything kind of aligns and that can happen. So for us to get a shift or two together at this level is a pretty amazing thing."
Just being in the same camp is, too. It's also something they aren't taking for granted. There are only two years separating the brothers, but for the past few winters there have been many miles between.
They would stay in contact by phone, but it wasn't fun not seeing each other. That's the biggest reason they decided to become offseason roommates two years ago their hometown of Winnipeg. They did it again this past summer, training hard together -- but this time David tagged along for workouts in Chicago.
On Sept. 9, their long-held wish to become professional teammates was realized. The following two weeks have been a blur, but a good one in spite of some "brotherly battles" at home.
"We've spent a lot of time together and had a lot of time to get on each other's nerves," Jonathan said. "For the most part we've been getting along pretty good, because we know in the winter we hardly ever get to see each other. Maybe this is an opportunity where that will change. It's just good to have him at camp. I know he's going to get a good opportunity to show what he can do here."
Thus far, David has shown some flashes of his potential as a playmaker.
"We always talk hockey," Jonathan said. "I guess sometimes I’m a little hard on him, but he's hungry and determined and wants to get better. He wants to find his own way and learn from his mistakes himself, which is a good thing. He's still learning, but he's working hard and improving and this is a new experience for my little bro. The No. 1 thing is that our family is passionate about hockey, so it's good to see him get the chance."
That passion is what made Tuesday so special. It was about much more than what happened in the game. It was about two brothers who spent countless hours skating on the rink their father built. It was about all the pick-up games and 1-on-1 battles staged long into the night. It was a nod to the "fun" competitions they'd have, like seeing who could brave the fierce cold the longest.
It also was about those nights when Mom or Dad would flash the rink lights and signal for them to come inside.
Their locker room no longer is the kitchen and the stakes are a lot greater these days for both of them. But, as they realized on a Tuesday night in Saskatoon, the trail of mats in front of them still can lead out to a magical place.