At a relatively young age, Jonathan Toews already possessed an incredible shrinking bucket list. And at age 28, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks was voted among the 100 Greatest NHL Players – quite the accomplishment for the all-purpose center.
But a look at his resume explains why:
Toews won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
He earned a gold medal with Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In 2010, at age 22, he became the second-youngest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He had 29 points in 22 games.
In 2013, he was awarded the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL’s best defensive forward.
In 2015, he won the Mark Messier Leadership Award recognizing contributions to one’s team and community.
Prior to all of this, Toews was named captain of the Blackhawks on July 18, 2008, before his second season. He had played 64 NHL games. No player in League annals had been named captain faster.
Really now, what is left for this special talent?
“More Stanley Cups,” Toews said, matter-of-factly. “Winning is addictive.”
Entering the 2006 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks were in dire need of new blood and a new direction. They had qualified for the playoffs once since 1997, making an abrupt five-game exit in 2002, and fan interest had dipped precipitously throughout an Original Six market. In the words of no less an authority than chairman Rocky Wirtz, “We had become irrelevant.”
The Blackhawks could not afford to miss on the No. 3 pick. They knew of Toews’ decorated amateur career, first at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota, then at the University of North Dakota. They probably anticipated that his pedigree – in 2007 he would become the first Canadian to win gold at the World Junior Championship and World Championship in the same year, and did it as a second-year collegian – would bode well for his evolution as a professional on hockey’s greatest stage, the NHL. They might even have heard the story about how, when Jonathan was a tyke, he made a promise.
“He told me he was not only going to make it in the NHL,” said his father, Bryan. “He told me he was going to make it big and buy me a new truck.”
The Blackhawks did not miss. They studied the person and the statistics, but there was no guarantee that Jonathan Toews would point the franchise toward a golden era with his excellence and maturity. He made a quick impression, scoring on his first shot with the Blackhawks, against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 10, 2007, and got a point in each of his first 10 games, then the second-best streak by any player to start an NHL career. Toews had 24 goals and 30 assists in 2007-08, his rookie season in Chicago, but it was more than that. It was his presence, the example he set, on the ice, in the locker room, on the bus.
“If I hadn’t seen Jonathan being born,” said his mother, Andree Gilbert, “I would swear he’s older.”
Teammates didn’t need to hear that parental praise. They merely observed the businesslike manner in which Toews prepared for his job and applied himself. Patrick Sharp, who won three Cup championships with Toews, called him “Mr. Serious.” Then Brent Seabrook, also fitted for three championship rings with the Blackhawks, acknowledged that Toews bore all the trappings and intangibles of a captain. So Seabrook updated the nickname to “Capt. Serious” and it caught on. Toews never warmed to it, but deduced correctly that the more he would debate the merits of such a label, the more serious he would seem.
“It stuck, I guess,” said Toews. “As far as leaders go, well, I happen to think we’ve had a lot of them on this team as we’ve learned how to win. It’s an honor to be captain of this team. But the ‘Serious’ part, I don’t know about that. It’s not like I never laugh.”
But Toews never takes a night off, and when your captain operates in such a way that every shift matters, the effort is contagious. Toews has the ability to be among the most productive players in the League, but his unselfishness and devotion to duty when opponents have the puck are paramount. When it’s about risk versus reward, Toews opts for the grunt work. He has what it takes to score 40 goals, but did not exceed 34 through nine full seasons. During that period, he had a rating of plus-187.
“All Jonathan Toews does is make everybody he plays with better,” Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. Before he took over in Toronto, Babcock saw plenty of Toews as coach of the Detroit Red Wings, bitter rivals of the Blackhawks. Babcock also coached him with Canada in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. It is noteworthy that, for the latter, Sidney Crosby was appointed captain. But before he accepted, Crosby sought to determine whether Toews would be at peace with the designation. Such is the degree of respect bestowed on Toews, who gladly served as an alternate.
For his play with the Blackhawks, Toews has received lavish praise from coach Joel Quenneville as the perfect link between management and labor.
“It makes it a lot easier to do what I do when you have No. 19 in the locker room,” Quenneville said. “You can’t teach what ‘Tazer’ brings to the table. When your best players go about their way like he does, it affects everybody else. Johnny is zero maintenance.”
Whereas Toews stands out for exemplary defensive and faceoff numbers, he is renowned for taking over a game when required. He is especially noticeable in the spring, as a clutch performer in playoffs. At the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, he had already amassed 10 game-winning playoff goals, second only in franchise history to a contemporary icon Patrick Kane’s 11. Through his first nine seasons, of Toews’ 251 goals, 51 were game-winners – third most in franchise history.
“Jonathan brings it every night,” said Scotty Bowman, a Hockey Hall of Fame coach and the Blackhawks senior adviser to hockey operations. “It’s one thing to have ability, but another to compete. You are not going to outcompete Toews. He plays in all situations. Power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5.
“He’s a big guy. You see him out of uniform. He’s strong and thick. But again, it’s another thing to use the body the way he uses it. He takes it to all the tough areas and makes sacrifices. He plays the entire rink. He’s got everybody’s respect, his own guys, guys throughout the league, coaches and general managers. He never causes problems and is a tremendous representative for the Blackhawks, the League and hockey. He carries himself well, speaks well. He even speaks French. He’s got it all.”
In Chicago, a city that has enjoyed its share of sports legends, Toews quickly became among the most admired and popular athletes ever. He dedicated countless hours and support to local causes, including The Kitchen Community, which builds learning gardens in Chicago to connect children with real food, increase academic achievement and encourage civic engagement.
In his native Winnipeg, Manitoba, where there is a lake named after him, Toews donated $1 million to the Dakota Community Centre, a facility that includes the 95,000 square foot Jonathan Toews Sportsplex, housing two indoor rinks, a gymnasium, nursery school, skate shop and strength training area.
For a big-name NHL player, Toews is not pretentious; when he brought the Stanley Cup to his hometown in 2010, he took a public bus to the parade.
“My parents have instilled in me the importance of giving back,” said Toews, captain during the most successful era in Blackhawks history. As a 20-something, he achieved iconic stature with the franchise, as did Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, both of whom have monuments erected beside United Center.
Jonathan Toews is a statue waiting to happen.
— Jonathan Toews: 100 Greatest NHL Players (Captained Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup titles, won Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010)